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From Colony to Province 



Copyright 1953 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College 
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-5072 

First published as a Beacon Paperback m 1961 by arrangement 
with Harvard University Press 

Printed in the United States of America 




This book stands, I trust, upon its own feet, and asks to be read as a 
self-sufficient unit. At the same time it is also a sequel to The New England 
Mind: The Seventeenth Century, published in September 1939. In that 
year I assumed that the next work would be quickly completed, but the 
situation proved not propitious either for scholarship or the dissemination 
of scholarship. I entered the Armed Services persuaded that my book had 
fallen on evil days and had failed to make any mark upon its generation. 

However, since the end of the war The New England Mind: The Seven- 
teenth Century has geen gratifyingly studied, and there appears to be war- 
rant for reprinting it. Most of what a decade ago seemed novelty in the 
treatment has become accepted; many of the deficiencies have been rem- 
edied by other students, and on several topics especially the academic cur- 
riculum and the Ramist dialectic younger scholars like William Costello 
and Walter J. Ong have gone far beyond it. But for better or worse the 
book is obliged to reappear as it first came out, and I can only express my 
gratitude to the Harvard Press for undertaking the reissue, planned for 

If the earlier book has any merit it anses from the effort to comprehend, 
in the widest possible terms, the architecture of the intellect brought to 
America by the founders of New England. Hence that book was organized 
by topics, treating the entire expression of the period as a single body of 
writing and paying little or no attention to modifications forced upon the 
mind by domestic events. The method could be justified because throughout 
the century, and down to the first decades of the eighteenth, the official 
cosmology did remain more or less intact. Such developments as took place 
affected the lesser areas of church polity, political relations, or the contests 
of groups and interests. These could be, and indeed as I believe this narra- 
tive demonstrates often were, intense and shattering experiences without 
causing any alterations in the doctrinal frame of reference. Therefore 
From Colony to Province may be imagined as taking place, so to speak, 
inside The Seventeenth Century. While the massive structure of logic, 
psychology, theology stands apparently untouched, the furnishings of the 
palace are little by little changed, until a hundred years after the Great 
Migration the New England mind has become strangely altered, even 
though the process (which, all things considered, was rapid) was hardly 
perceptible to the actors themselves. A hundred years after the landings, 
they were forced to look upon themselves with amazement, hardly capable 
of understanding how they had come to be what they were. 

Consequently the focus of the study is narrowed down to a merely 
provincial scene, and much is made of events which, in the perspective of 
American not to say of world history, seem so small as to be trivial. 


Frankly, did I regard this investigation as no more than an account of 
intellectual activity in colonial New England I would long since have given 
it over as not worth the effort. But the fascination of this region, for the 
first two hundred or more years of its existence, is that it affords the his- 
torian an ideal laboratory. It was relatively isolated, the people were com- 
paratively homogeneous, and the forces of history played upon it in ways 
that can more satisfactorily be traced than in more complex societies. Here 
is an opportunity, as nearly perfect as the student is apt to find, for extract- 
ing certain generalizations about the relation of thought or ideas to com- 
munal experience. I believe profoundly that the story herein recounted is 
chiefly valuable for its representative quality: it is a case history of the 
accommodation to the American landscape of an imported and highly 
articulated system of ideas. We have a chance to see exactly how this 
process, which began the moment the ships dropped anchor in Boston 
harbor, was driven by local influences, and yet was constantly diverted or 
stimulated by the influx of ideas from Europe. What I should most like to 
claim for this study is that it amounts to a sort of working model for 
American history. 

Circumstances and a lack of clear foresight betrayed me into composing 
things in the wrong order. In 1933 I published Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 
which gives my version of the first two decades of the New England enter- 
prise , I worked then under the delusion that it would serve as prologue to 
The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. But the research 
itself at length taught me that the second book was in reality the intro- 
ductory exploration; Orthodoxy in Massachusetts constitutes the first chap- 
ters of a tale which The New England Mind: From Colony to Province 
resumes. For the establishing of continuity I have reached behind the year 
1648 the formulation of The Cambridge Platform to catch up hitherto 
unannounced themes, but have not reviewed all those which culminated 
in that document. I am obliged to pretend that this chronicle commences 
from a hypothetical starting point, from the vast literature of what I have 
called Non-separatist Congregationalism. Assuming that Orthodoxy in 
Massachusetts has stated its case, and further postulating the existence of 
The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century, I now attempt to get 
on with an analysis of events as they befell. 

As far as possible I have again employed the premise of my general tide, 
that "mind" means what was said and done publicly. Therefore I have made 
sparing use of diaries or private papers, and have, on matters of larger con- 
cern, taken my illustrations indifferently from whichever writer seemed most 
to the point. But since this is a chronological story, and m it there is conflict, 
I have allowed sections to deal with personalities like Gershom Bulkeley, 
Solomon Stoddard, or John Wise apart from the over-all configuration. To 
save space and expense, I have not cluttered my text with specific annota- 
tions; where an utterance has special importance I have treated it at length, 
giving the title in the text and assuming that the readers will perceive that 


the following quotations come from it. All titles are listed in the Index under 
their authors (or by name, if anonymous) ; hence a combination of the 
Index and the Bibliographical Notes comprises a list of the major "sources." 
I have printed quotations as they appear in print or m manuscript, except 
that I have left out the italics which at the time were generally arbitrary 
ornaments and are peculiarly disti acting to the modern eye. 

Students of early New England know that I could not have written this 
book without the help of Thomas J. Holmes's monumental Bibliographies 
of the Mathers or of Clifford K. Shipton's continuation of Sibley's Harvard 
Graduates. I owe much to present and former students, especially Edmund 
S. Morgan. I. Bernard Cohen acted over and above the call of friendship 
by reading and criticizing the manuscript. Most of the work was done in 
the Houghton Library of Harvard University, where I added to the debt 
of gratitude I have long owed Miss Carolyn Jakeman; in the Massachu- 
setts Historical Society, where I had the invaluable help of Stephen T. Riley 
and Warren G. Wheeler; and in the Boston Public Library, where I en- 
joyed the hospitality of Zoltan Haraszti. The volume has profited immeas- 
urably from the expert assistance of Chase Duffy. Elizabeth Williams 
Miller worked with me in every stage of the research and writing. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts 
December 10, 1952 


With the reprinting of this volume I have the immense satisfaction of 
beholding all of the parts of my saga in paperback version, arrived at, as I en- 
deavored to explain in 1952, in a disgracefully clumsy sequence. 

I find a particular gratification m the reappearance o this final installment 
because it was a challenge as much as I could make it one to modern scholar- 
ship about what constitutes "intellectual history," and wherein it differs from, 
or should be set apart (rom, the "social." At one point, however, I incautiously 
remarked that by the close of my century the chronicle of New England's "mind" 
was being as much written by the actions of men of business as by theologians. 
That proved a gaff. I was soon appalled by the eagerness with which academic 
reviewer after reviewer seized upon this unfortunate passage as a welcome re- 
lease from the burden of ideas which my treatment had imposed upon them, 
and by the glee with which they demanded of the book, where was the account 
of these actions? When they could triumphantly announce that it was conspicuous 
by its absence, they could comfortably dismiss this sort of history as irrelevant. 
They could then resume their researches, with a clear conscience, on such topics 
as ship, trade routes, currency, property, agriculture, town government and mili- 
tary tactics. 


I still maintain, and want this reprinting to insist, that while indeed these 
kinds of activity require an exercise of a faculty which in ordinary parlance may 
be called intelligence, such matters are not, and cannot be made, the central 
theme of a coherent narrative They furnish forth at their worst mere tables of 
statistics, on the average meaningless inventories, and at their best only a series 
of monographs. The most charitable of my critics paid me a dubious compliment 
on my ability "to extemporize" the history of New England society, but he in- 
tended this courtesy to be a rebuke to the profession for not having yet built 
the foundation on which my account ought, by rights, to have been based. He 
implied that therefore that construct was floating in thin air, like some insub- 
stantial island of Laputa. 

My unrepentant or should I say defiant 3 contention is quite the reverse. 
The terms of Puritan thinking do not progressively become poorer tools than 
were the concepts of the founders for the recording of social change On the 
contrary, they are increasingly the instruments through which the people strove 
to cope with a bewildering reality Unless we also approach that buzzing factu- 
ahty through a comprehension of these ideas, it becomes even more a tumultuous 
chaos for us that it was for those caught in the blizzard. Unless we can do 
this, the writing of history ceases to be a work of the mind. But to proceed 
successfully from the intellectual to the social pattern requires of the historian 
and the reader of histories a sensitivity to the nuances of ideas at least as 
delicate as that of the best intellects in the period. 

February 25, 1961 

































INDEX, 499 


And the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my 
mouth. And the Lord said unto me, "Behold, I have put 
my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over 
the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to 
pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, 
and to plant." 

JEREMIAH 1:9-10 




Wmthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, died in 
1649, as did Thomas Shepard, most eloquent of preachers, relentless 
searcher of souls, and acute divider between the states of grace and 
reprobation. Two years before, Thomas Hooker, magisterial founder of 
Connecticut, who could put a king in his pocket, preceded them. In 1652, 
John Cotton, foremost scholar and official apologist of the New England 
Way, died m Boston, his name a mighty one wherever Protestant learning 
and erudition were revered. These had been the spokesmen, and with them 
a generation ended. 

There was still John Davenport in New Haven, but he had withdrawn 
into peculiarities which even to Puritans seemed excessively rigorous. 
Children of these Plutarchian fathers began a lament they could not 
restrain : 

Shall none 

Be l&]t behind to teWs the Quondam Glory 
Of this Plantation? 

By the sixth decade of the century only one remained from the pantheon 
of great founders Richard Mather of Dorchester. Only he, principal 
architect of The Cambridge Platform (by which in 1648 orthodox New 
England published to the world its distinctive constitution of church gov- 
ernment), only he could pronounce the admonition and benediction of the 

By the tenth of April 1657, almost deaf and blind in one eye, he felt 
the time had come to speak A Farew el-Exhortation To the Church and 
People of Dorchester m New-England. (Actually, he was to live until 
April 1669.) He and his colleagues had invested property, energy, life; 
now others must carry on, children who, like his youngest son Increase, 
knew nothing of heroic days in England when King Charles darkened 
the skies by dismissing Parliament and when Laud's "visitors" told Richard 
to his face that he had better have begot seven bastards than to have 
preached without a surplice, Into this valedictory, Richard Mather poured 
the experience of a generation, strove by main force to warn of what in 
their eyes, despite the miraculous achievement, were evident dangers. 

As we might expect, Mather exhorted the progeny to hold fast to the 


theological propositions arrayed in The Westminster Confession, which he 
had persuaded the Synod of 1648 to endorse, and urged upon them fidelity 
to the scheme of ecclesiastical polity he had carried through that assembly. 
But in his principal instruction he made a statement to which we may attach 
special significance, all the more as it betrays uneasiness about something 
that had not, in the infinite wisdom of the fathers, been foreseen. It reveals 
a belated awareness of one factor in the developing economy with which 
neither the Confession nor the Platform had dealt: 

It is true the condition of many amongst you ... is such as necessarily puts 
you on to have much imployment about the things of this life, and to labour with 
care & paines taking in the workes of husbandry, and other worldly business for the 
maintenance of your selves & your families, the Lord having laid this burden on 
man ... & experience shews that it is an easy thing in the middest of worldly 
business to lose the life and power of Religion, that nothing thereof should be left 
but only the external form, as it were the carcass or shell, worldliness having eaten 
out the kernell, and having consumed the very soul & life of godliness. 

Mather admitted as Puritans always did acknowledge that these con- 
cerns are necessary, but New Englanders must, above all people, make them 
virtuous, must be concerned not so much with "the things of this life" as 
with "the heart wherewith they are done," for if there be no heart, even 
preaching and praying, let alone husbandry and fishing, "will be no bet- 
ter then acts of profaneness & ungodlyness, and in the issue be charged 
upon the doers as so many smns." With his last voice, Richard Mather 
laid upon the society this injunction, that it exhibit the life and power of 
religion, no longer in defiance of king and bishop, but in earthly and civil 

The posterity of American Puritanism have devised nothing that would 
more shock their fathers than their inquiry into the comparative force, 
among motives which impelled the settlement, of the economic as against 
the religious. The coincidence of a crisis in the wool trade of East Anglia 
with the Parliamentary debacle of 1629 was comprehensible: it signified, 
as Winthrop recognized when he drew up his list of inducements, that 
God was employing diverse arguments to persuade Puritans to get out of 

These Puritans never intended that their holy experiment should eventu- 
ate in a conflict, let alone a contradiction, between the religious program 
and civil employments. They did not suppose that conditions in the New 
World would make it any more difficult than in the old for virtuous men 
to turn necessities into virtues: because we cannot too often remind our- 
selves they did not think of New England as being "new." It was going 
to be the old, familiar world of sin and struggle: it differed only in that 
it was vacant (except for a few Indians), that therein men might draw 
breath to resume the fight, at that moment discouraged m England, against 
sin and profligacy. This is what John Winthrop meant when, on the deck 


of the Arbella,) he said we "seeke out a place of Cohabitation and Con- 
sorteshipp vnder a due forme of Government both ciuill and ecclesiastical!." 
The migration was no retreat from Europe it was a flank attack. We are 
to be a city set upon a hill, the eyes of all the world upon us; what we suc- 
ceed in demonstrating, Europe will be bound to imitate, even Rome itself. 
These were not despite their analogies with Moses and the tribes of 
Israel refugees seeking a promised land, but English scholars, soldiers, 
and statesmen, taking the long way about in order that someday they, or 
their children, or at least their friends, might rule in Lambeth. They knew 
that they would have to take pains in husbandry and business; since the 
fall of Adam such diligence was obligatory, but it was unthinkable that 
children conceived and educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut would 
become preoccupied, not with universal Christendom, but with provincial 

While the city was building upon its hill, citizens would have to live. 
This, of course, would be but a means to an end; whatever prosperity 
they achieved would serve to persuade opponents that their civil and ecclesi- 
astical governments were good. But on the other hand, no activity could 
be in itself so meaningless as to serve merely as a means to an end. A man 
was doing the will of God when f aiming or trading as much as when 
preaching; none could give himself to commerce under the convenient 
rationalization that he was licensed to concentrate his whole soul upon that 
pursuit in order to strengthen a national economy even a holy economy. 
All things are temptations: a man must labor in his calling as though all 
depends upon his exertions, but must remember that reward is given by 
God. Every citizen would have to make the wilderness supply food and 
clothing, to make it bloom, but he must exert himself not in order to vin- 
dicate propositions to which the society was dedicated, but as a conse- 
quence of his personal and prior dedication to them. 

In other words, economic prosperity would be not a cause but a result 
of piety. Yet anyone who knew the history of Europe, particularly in the 
last two centuries, knew that men were prone to transpose cause and effect. 
Experience showed that they might come imperceptibly to derive satisfac- 
tion less from their piety than from the wealth which was its visible symbol* 

John Wmthrop was not dismayed before the economic task: as the fleet 
approached the scene of labor, he knew the danger to be not failure but 
success. Even in anticipation, what struck dread into his heart was a fear 
lest we should "fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnall 
intencions, scekeing greate things for our selues and our posterity." The 
American problem was not to be different from the European : a vacant con- 
tinent might offer greater scope for enterprise, but this made a difference 
in degree, not in kind. In either continent, diligence in a man's calling gave 
recompense, leaving the laborer with a torturing question about his spiritual 

Leaders of the first generation were participants in a great world. Not, 


I mean, that they were courtiers or patrons of the Mermaid Tavern, but 
they were figures of weight and influence, both m their own and others' 
estimation, in a vast complex, compared with which court and tavern were 
frivolous byplays. They were performers in the main action, in interna- 
tional Calvinism, in Protestantism. They were not colonials, and never 
would become colonial; though they died in America, they were never to 
be Americanized. They were too old, had been exercised too deeply ever 
to learn provincialism. They came of age and to their convictions in a 
world where the shaping influences were the war in Germany, Richelieu's 
foreign policy, Buckingham's plots, Eliot's oratory, immense tomes on the 
cosmic structure of the liberal arts, and razor-edged arguments against 
Arminiamsm. Isolation is not a matter of distance or the slowness of com- 
munication: it is a question of what a dispatch from distant quarters means 
to the recipient. A report from Geneva, Frankfort, Strasbourg, or Leiden 
might take months to reach John Cotton or Thomas Hooker, but either 
comprehended it immediately, not as a tale from foreign parts, but as some- 
thing intimately concerning them exactly as Milton readily understood 
the significance of bulletins from the Piedmont. 

The major events of the first decades in the history of these plantations 
were not the developments which now interest our historians: such mechan- 
ical adjustments as the land system or the bicameral legislature. For the 
leaders themselves, the important episodes were those in which they acted 
out their consciousness of filling roles in the over-all strategy of Protestant- 
ism, Suppression of Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomians; banishment 
of Roger Williams; tricky diplomacy with King, Parliament, Presbyteri- 
ans, and Oliver Cromwell, adroit maneuvers to defeat the "Remonstrance" 
of Dr. Child; formulating The Cambridge Platform: these actions were 
guided not by domestic considerations but by their sense of New England's 
part in the Holy War. Learned books contributed to the fundamental issue 
of the age: Hooker's Survey, Cotton's The Way of Congregational 
Churches Cleared, Shepard's A Defence of the Answer, and Richard 
Mather's Church-Government were not written for home consumption 
but for an audience stretched across half Europe. These came out of a 
scholarship immense and sophisticated, and distinguished the particulars of 
New England only in so far as they had reference to the universals of 

Naturally, even in the midst of this holy war, food, clothes, and utensils 
had to be produced and exchanged. Economic life was not something apart 
from the Christian: it was one among the multiple aspects of existence. 
With no sense that he was adding merely subsidiary arguments, Winthrop 
in 1629 included, among his reasons for migrating, the reflection that 
England was overpopulated and growing weary of her inhabitants, along 
with the plea that the move would perfect the Reformation. Even while 
laboring or trading, men's minds would be occupied not only with search 
of soul but also with the victories of Gustavus Adolphus or the agonies 


of La Rochelle. Christian men, working in the world, had daily experi- 
ence of the conflict , though they did not get their news hourly or in scream- 
ing headlines, they got it eventually, and tension was unrelieved. Experi- 
ence showed that amid worldly business a man might lose the power of 
religion, but if there was one thing Winthrop and the signers of the Cam- 
bridge Agreement could say, in all honesty, about themselves, it was this: 
men of affairs they were, but they conducted their businesses and built their 
estates without for a moment forgetting that they aspired to godliness. 
Precisely because they had come to the conclusion after, as Shepard said, 
"many serious consultations with one another" that hope was now dim 
in Europe, they resolved to go to America, knowing that to worship the 
Lord according to His will would involve "their toylsome Labour, wants, 
difficulties, losses." They were incapable of conceiving that their earthly 
employments might be tabulated on a separate ledger from their acts of 
godliness. Work in one's calling and a reformation of the church had one 
and the same goal m England. Why should it not remain the same in 
New England? 

How deeply this conception was rooted m the minds and hearts of the 
pioneering generation and revealing how little they were, in the ordinary 
sense, pioneers one instance out of a hundred will show. On January 6, 
1647, Samuel Symonds, magistrate in Ipswich, wrote to Governor Winthrop 
when the agitation instigated by Dr. Child's appeal to a Presbyterian Parlia- 
ment threatened to destroy everything for which the founders had labored 
In this dark moment, Symonds was reporting on the countermeasures 
adopted in Ipswich; signing the letter, he turned over his page: "I thought 
good to add a little more." In this moment of danger, something com- 
pelled him to take stock anew of why he was in Ipswich, why the enter- 
prise had been launched in the first place. He could give seven reasons 
"whatever more there be which tyme may yet discover" why we came 
here and shall fight to stay here. These testify that pioneer experience had 
not dimmed the original notion of the "great adventure" as a deployment 
of shock-troops in a world-wide conflict. 

Conversion of the Indians is, inevitably, one of the seven purposes; by 
1647 there was not much to show for it, but should success come, it "will 
make vs goc singing to our graves." Another combines religion and mer- 
cantilism: "To make this place a Rendezvou for our deare english f rends 
when they shall make their voyages to the west Indies to dry vp that Eu- 
phrates." But four of his conclusions belong to the larger strategy: God has 
peopled New England in order that the reformation of England and Scot- 
land may be hastened, to prove to "the episcopacy" that true polity and 
good government may stand together, to provide a "hiding place" for those 
not destined to be sacrificed in the Civil Wars, to train up soldiers for the 
great war yet to be waged against Rome, to which New England may 
contribute godly seamen, "formerly rare in the world." But there is an- 
other reflection actually the third in his enumeration, amid, and on an 


equality with, his theological calculations that in this enterprise the richer 
sort have had their grace tried by sinking their estates into the plantation, 
"And that the poorer sort (held vnder in Engl:) should have mlargement." 
For Samuel Symonds, all was of a piece imperial, economic, religious. It 
was enough that all hung together, after sixteen years of settlement, he 
could reassure himself (and so encourage Wmthrop) that were the gov- 
ernment's proceedings against malignants frankly related to the people, 
"they are soone satisfyed when they are rightly informed." 

Hasty as is Symonds' postscript, no passage in the literature leads us 
so directly and artlessly to the purpose of the founders, all the more be- 
cause it was not composed, like Wmthrop's sermon aboard the Arbella, 
in the first flush of devotion, but in a moment of anxiety after sixteen years 
of hard work. The sense of the great world is still there, is still the great 
idea. The economic interest remains what it was at the beginning: the 
wealthy must pay for the privilege of serving; the poor have a chance to 
serve simultaneously God and their prosperity, for which they could not 
have hoped in England. All this is so clear even if a nervous magistrate 
needs to tell it over to himself that it "causeth the solid Christians to prize 
the rare and rich liberty and power which god hath given them, and they 
have deerly purchassed (viz. in respect of men, m this their great adven- 
ture) at a very high rate." As long as men like Symonds, Winthrop, 
Hooker, and Cotton lived, this cost was calculated, paid not for New 
England or for America but for Christ. Within this frame farms were 
ploughed and nets lowered into the sea. 

And yet, by the time Samuel Symonds was thus exhorting Governor 
Winthrop, it was also clear that Winthrop and Symonds were suffering 
from a grievous miscalculation. They started with the assumption that they 
in New England were about to attain what all Calvmist churches Con- 
tinental as well as English believed in theory but were prevented by 
European conditions from achieving. In an empty continent, these Protes- 
tants could do what all Protestants, in their heart of hearts, wanted to do. 
On the Arbella Winthrop predicted that what "the most" maintain as 
truth only in profession, "wee must bring into familiar and constant prac- 
tice." To comprehend America, you have to comprehend this sentence. 
Americans would be Englishmen who attained in America what their Eng- 
lish and European brethren were seeking. America meant opportunity be- 
cause there potentiality might become act. That purification for which 
Calvimsts on the Continent and Puritans in England had striven for 
three generations was to be wrought in a twinkling upon virgin soil. 

What tormented Winthrop was not that New England failed, but that 
the brethren in England rejected the lesson. Independents fellow Con- 
gregationalists deserted the high ground of a due and an intolerant form 
of government; they elected to defend a Congregational or voluntary 
polity by extending toleration to heretical opinions. In the ranks of the 
New Model Army, English Congregationalists learned to live and let 


live, while New Englanders were busy expelling Williams, Antinomians, 
and Anabaptists. Despite confident expectations of an indissoluble unity 
between saints in New England and at home, in the 1640's they became 
estranged. As soon as English Independents entertained a policy of tolera- 
tion well before the deaths of Wmthrop and Cotton New England 
became, not the vanguard of Protestantism, but an isolated remnant. 

The settlement had been undertaken within a predictable pattern of 
history, the objective of which was capture of the Church of England, But 
instead, just as the hierarchy was crumbling, partisans of the true church 
admitted that Anabaptists had a right to be Anabaptists because on this 
condition they fought in Cromwell's army. New Englanders, having left 
England to become the mentors of Europe, found themselves with none to 
instruct. From their point of view, which had suddenly become merely an 
American viewpoint, they were forced to think that history had taken a 
wrong turning. With the dawn of that suspicion although most of the 
founders died in the belief that Independents would repent the isolation 
of New England commenced. New England Puritanism had become, by 
remaining faithful to its radical dedication, a stronghold of reaction. 

As a starting point for this present volume, one passage will serve: in 
June 1645 thirteen Independent divines, including Goodwin, Owen, and 
Nye, names held in highest reverence in Boston, wrote to the General 
Court that the colony's law of November 1644, banishing Anabaptists, 
was endangering the cause of Congregational polity in England. People 
were saying "that persons of our way, principall and spirit cannot beare with 
Dissentors from them, but Doe correct, fine, imprison and banish them 
wherever they have power soe to Doe." Independents pled with Massa- 
chusetts: those who admire such severities "are utterly your enemyes and 
Doe seeke your extirpation from the face of the earth: those who now in 
power are your friends are quite otherwise minded, and Doe professe they 
are much offended with your proceedings." New England replied to these 
remonstrances by trying all the more to suppress heresy. Nathaniel Ward, 
taking upon himself to be herald of New England, warned schismatics to 
stay away. 

The victory of Cromwell, even though a triumph for tarnished princi- 
ples, at least left New England in peace; he was too much occupied in 
Europe to reduce the colonies to toleration. Most of the founders died with- 
out conceding anything, and m the monument of their triumph, in The 
Cambridge Platform of 1648, enshrined the doctrine that civil authority 
must restrain and punish corrupt and pernicious opinions. Nine years later, 
thinking himself the last voice of the founders, formulating their bequest 
to posterity aware that he was beseeching their children to abide by what 
was now a peculiarity Richard Mather, in his second exhortation, called 
upon New England to disregard those who "think a man may be saved 
in any Religion, & that it were good to haue all Religions free, and that 
opinions haue no great danger in them." These, he said, "are but the de- 


vises of Satan, that so pernicious errours might more easily be entertained, 
as not being greatly suspected." Hence, in this admonition, as m his exhor- 
tation not to let worldly business eat out the kernel of piety, we find a theme 
for the unfolding history of a people who had become, without quite know- 
ing how or when, colonial. 

Leaders resisted pleas of their erstwhile friends not, it seemed to them, 
out of obstinacy but out of courage. They had attempted the impossible 
and had done it: they had created an order upon a Congregational basis, 
on the proposition that a major part of the inhabitants should be excluded 
from church membership and from government. In the face of all common 
sense, they had made this restriction work, they had proved that a dictator- 
ship of the visible elect could subdue dissent, conduct war and diplomacy, 
enlist the loyalty of a people, and vindicate God's laws to man. The prin- 
ciple of exclusion was not negative but positive, for it saints examined their 
souls, for it they endured all affliction. 

What spirit stirred them may be illustrated in one of the few outbursts 
of irritation the immense reserve of John Winthrop ever permitted him. 
In the summer of 1643 he pushed a majority of the General Court to 
intervene in the civil war then being fought between two factions of the 
French colony of Acadie. Or at least he allowed the weaker of the two 
French leaders, La Tour, to hire ships and recruit "volunteers" in Boston, 
arguing that this was no violation of neutrality. (The whole episode has a 
modern ring; it was the one out-and-out blunder Winthrop ever made, and 
it cost him the governorship in May 1644, as well as the chagrin of having 
events prove that he backed the wrong man.) Three members of the Board 
of Assistants (including Samuel Symonds) and four ministers wrote a pro- 
test which stung him perhaps because he knew he was mistaken into an 
angry reply. They objected to his act as unconstitutional, but more cogently 
because it was imprudent; the conflict cannot be localized in Acadie, they 
said, because France will react to Winthrop's demarche: "The Daggers we 
draw here may happily prove swords in Christendome for ought we know." 
Furthermore, La Tour's opponent has the troops, artillery, and supplies; 
it is "dangerous" to risk a war with him ("Soe that we feare, our sheepe 
haue hastned to their slaughter"). Winthrop's nerves were on edge: let- 
ting La Tour raise volunteers in Massachusetts was "no vndertaking of 
warre, nor Act of hostility, but a meere Liberty of commerce," and then, 
inconsistently enough, he cried out, what if there be danger? Who are we, 
founders of New England, to be intimidated? 

When we first set up Reformation in our Church way, did not this expose vs to 
as greate an hazard as we could run both from abroad and at home? Did not our 
frends in England many of them forewarne vs of it ere we came away? Did not 
others send letters after vs, to deterre vs from it ? Did not some among our selvs 
(and those no meane ones) inculcate our inevitable dangers at home from no smale 
Company left out of Church fellowship, and Civill Offices, and freedome hitherto? 
Yet we trusted in God (though there appeared no meanes of safety) and went on 


our way: and the Lord hath still preserved vs, and frustrated all Councells and 
Attempts against vs. 

Passions deep in the Puritan soul swirled into flame as Wmthrop called 
the list of dangers Puritans had vanquished: 

The Lord hath brought vs hither through the swelling seas, through penlls of 
Pyrats, tempests, Icakcs, fyrcs, Rocks, sands, diseases, starvings: and hath here pre- 
served vs these many ycares from the displeasure of Princes, the envy and Rage of 
Prelats, the malignant Plotts of Jesuits, the mutinous contentions of discontented 
persons, the open and secret Attempts of barbarous Indians, the seditious and under- 
mineing practises of hereticall false brethren. 

There is no more stirring passage m the literature: here, for once, logic 
and decorum gave way to experiential utterance. 

The time is not long but the cry is far from this revolutionary spirit to 
Richard Mather's oblique confession, in his third exhortation, of the effect 
of that revolution on a population who had grown up with victory already 
accomplished and institutionalized: 

In these dayes and m this country, profession is somewhat common, Authority 
through the goodness of God countenancing Religion, and ministring Justice 
against all known ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. You have therefore so 
much more need to take heed and beware, least your Religion reach no further but 
to profession and the external form thereof. 

New England was no longer a reformation, it was an administration. It 
was no longer battling for the principle that most of the populace should 
be left out of church-fellowship, but was striving to keep church-fellow- 
ship alive. 

The future of the system was, obviously, up to the children. It will be 
a testimony of your love "to his Majesty," said Mather in his fourth and 
longest reprehension, "if you be carcfull to train up a posterity for the 
Lord." Early in the 1640's ministers began to complain that sons and 
daughters were not exhibiting zeal. The basic assumption of Congrega- 
tionalism was that it would be difficult, not to get people into the churches, 
but to keep them out. Hence only those who could demonstrate their title 
to the Covenant of Grace would be admitted, and with them their chil- 
dren: these, being baptized, were sealed into the Covenant and therefore, 
according to promise made to Abraham, would grow up to become saints. 
What Richard Mather in 1657 had to press upon these children was not 
tempests, fires, rocks, and starvation, but the argument that they were 
under an obligation: "Tell it them as soon as they shall be able to learn, 
what a solemn Covenant there is between the God of heaven and them, 
whereby the Lord takes them to be his." The glorious blessings of the 
Covenant, in which the founders had reveled, would also be theirs "It 
it be not through their own default." (Remember, these were Calvin- 
ists, who professed predestination and reprobation!) If they do not keep 
their baptismal covenant, Mather had to say, they will be no better than 


Turks or Indians or other "pagans" nay, they will be worse, because 
they sin against mercy. "Tell them seriously of these things," he pleaded, 
"and press upon them the remembrance, consideration, and conscience of 
their Baptism and Covenant, and the great engagement that lyeth upon 
them thereby." 

Twenty-seven years after Winthrop's sermon on the Arlella^ with its 
abounding confidence, Richard Mather, speaking for Winthrop's genera- 
tion, was forced to rally the second generation with solemn confirmations 
and seals, with the threat that if they failed their obligation, they would 
bring upon themselves "sorer and more dreadfull judgments." He w*as 
trying to give them the impact of Winthrop's inspired catalogue, telling 
them that in entirely altered circumstances, where profession is common 
and where authority countenances religion, they must rise to such intensi- 
ties as had exhilarated their fathers when profession had been agonizing 
and perilous, when authority itself was ungodly and unrighteous. 

Richard Mather, along with all the other founders of New England, 
was a disciple of Petrus Ramus, a practitioner of the plain style. In this 
aesthetic the primary function of speech was, as Michael Wigglesworth put 
it, "readily to express in words what the mind in thought conceives." Al- 
though Puritans understood that rhetoric appealed to emotions, they strove 
by might and main to chain their language to logical propositions, and to 
penetrate to the affections of auditors only by thrusting an argument 
through their reason. The practice of which Mather's valedictory is an 
example was constantly governed by a fear lest eloquence rape the will 
before the understanding be persuaded; yet the finest of their rhetorical 
theorists, Alexander Richardson, had pointed out that "inartificial argu- 
ments" are phantasms. By inartificial, Ramists meant those things an 
auditor receives at second hand, upon the testimony of others, as opposed 
to those he takes from primary sensation, from objects themselves. Accord- 
ing to this doctrine, inartificial reports will tend to excite the emotions 
more than the intellect because they are bound to stimulate feelings not 
controlled by first-hand experience. The only way a preacher, even in a 
dramatic farewell, could summon people to a recognition of their predica- 
ment was by patiently spelling it out in logical detail. 

Richard Mather strove to make his points with the force o logic; at the 
same time, in his anxiety over declining morale, he endeavored, as far as 
Ramist and Puritan rhetoric would let him, to arouse his people. Taking 
advantage of the federal theology, he addressed baptized children as persons 
already within the Covenant of Grace, who therefore possessed an ability 
to respond. But he was limited to the logic of that Covenant, to deducing 
consequential obligations; it would have been out of order for him to use 
such an incantation as had Winthrop in his exacerbated letter. Everything 
depended upon logic, upon the "invention" of the arguments, not upon 

We know that the founders studied Francis Bacon. Indeed, the chief 


architect of their ecclesiastical theory, William Ames, cited Bacon with 
approval. In the sixth book of The Advancement of Learning they would 
have found a statement which they could endorse: "The duty and office 
of Rhetoric, if it be deeply looked into, is no other than to apply and rec- 
ommend the dictates of reason to imagination, in order to excite the appe- 
tite and will." But we may wonder whether Richard Mather had ever 
looked further into that chapter, wherein Bacon whom no one can accuse 
of being a Calvmist criticized several seemingly self-evident arguments 
in the service of which rhetoric was often employed, and demonstrated 
that in these cases rhetoric was bound to fail because the propositions 
themselves were sophistical. For instance, it would seem to be a logical 
thesis that what we gain by our own merit and industry is a greater good 
than what we get from fortune or favor. If we can win something by our 
own efforts, we ought to be confident about the future; what we have done 
by ourselves we can do again, maybe even better. But against this, he pointed 
out reaching deep into the constitution of man, to which the Ramist and 
Puritan rhetorics addressed themselves that the other sort of "felicity," 
which is evidently a sign of divine favor, "both creates confidence and 
alacrity in ourselves, and wins obedience and respect from others." The 
founders of New England were favored of divinity, which had created in 
them confidence and alacrity. But how could their children, out of mere 
volition, copy them ? 

Furthermore, Bacon continued, the deeds of virtue and industry are 
imitable, but the felicity itself that "is inimitable, and a kind of pre- 
rogative of the individual man." Hence, he said, "we generally see that 
natural things are preferred to artificial, because they admit not of imita- 
tion j for whatever is imitable is potentially common." Winthrop's fervid 
array of dangers overcome did not spring from the potentially common- 
it was a towering pride speaking out of felicity divinely given, and an 
ecstasy not to be imitated. What of all this could Mather's argument 
his caution against the corroding effects of business, his exhortation to re- 
main intolerant, his warning that external conformity must not be mistaken 
for real piety, his urging upon children that they assume an obligation to 
which they had been committed without knowledge of natural things 
what of the inimitable felicity could these demonstrations convey to those 
who had never known London, never been sneered at by a courtier, never 
fled a pursuivant, never dined in Emmanuel College, and never even seen 
a Catholic (except for the brief moment when Winthrop's diplomacy al- 
lowed Monsieur and Madame La Tour to lodge in Boston) ? Mather was 
trying to supply them with an experience they had missed; he was exhort- 
ing them in the stark rhetoric of the plain style to attain the passion which 
in Winthrop's letter exploded into figures and alliterative imagery. When 
he reminisced with survivors of the migration, he could speak arguments 
which, in Bacon's language, would be called natural, or, in the terminology 
of Ramus, artificial in fabrica ra; but when he told these things to the 


rising generation, they became altered into arguments which Bacon called 
artificial and the Ramists inartificial. An apologist for the New England 
ecclesiastical system only a decade before had told a Presbyterian that he 
would eschew all such persuasions, since they "are onely inducements, not 
convincements, being onely inartificial Arguments.'* 

In The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century I set forth the 
massive cosmology within which, to the mentality of the founders, the settle- 
ment was undertaken, within which it had more than a merely colonial sig- 
nificance. This framework was to stand, without serious modification, for 
the remainder of the century and well into the eighteenth. It organized and 
classified all existence, its compendia answered all questions, laid out in 
systematic array all arts and sciences; in "technologia," its science of the 
sciences, it set forth the enduring and indestructible pattern of the uni- 
verse. Within this scheme, by logical deduction could be resolved such 
matters as the form of church polity, the employment of metaphors in 
sermons, the baptism of children, or the reasons for migrating to Boston. 
The scaffold was immense, comprehensive, and consistent; basically scholas- 
tic and medieval, it also incorporated the learning of Humanism and the 
erudition of Renaissance Protestantism. It was European, it was static, archi- 
tectonic, and formal. It presided over the story I am about to tell, fram- 
ing and delimiting the intellectual amphitheatre, confining actors to certain 
methods and procedures. It restricted Richard Mather to a logical state- 
ment of enumerated points, here and there embellished with a rhetoric 
which took care not to lay too direct a hold upon emotions lest it become 
enthusiastic. With this instrument he was endeavoring to prove that the 
children were required to know anxieties which nothing in their life, ex- 
cept their parents' tales, had ever conveyed to them. 

The four themes of his admonition furnish the motifs of this volume: 
the balance of economic life with the spiritual, preservation of the New 
England Way, both civil and ecclesiastical, in its indubitably colonial status, 
with its peculiarities of restricted membership and intolerance; transmission 
of the basic psychological experience of the founders; and perpetuation of 
the church order through a succession of converted children. These themes 
were thrust upon Richard Mather; they were unprovided for in that im- 
mense and supposedly definitive organon of knowledge with which the 
founders had been furnished. The first Puritans did indeed succeed in 
impressing upon the tabula rasa of America a European and a Protestant 
seal. With their articulated sciences of theology, psychology, logic, and 
rhetoric, above all with the three-fold doctrine of the covenant the Cove- 
nant of Grace, the church covenant, and the social covenant they pos- 
sessed coherent answers to all conceivable contingencies. But the one thing 
they had not foreseen, nor could their compendia possibly have foreseen, 
was that experience in the New World might pose problems not on the 
schedule, which appeared to have no rationale whatsoever. 

Mather's dying (as he supposed) injunctions are significant because they 


are recognitions of native forces. That they appear thus shyly, in the guise 
of developments to be resisted or deplored, should not lessen their value 
to the historian. The word "vicarious" was familiar to him, at least as 
associated with the doctrine of the atonement. The proposition that Christ 
had vicariously suffered for mankind brought out an affection of grati- 
tude and adoration, but what Mather could not understand how could 
he? was that he spoke of this doctrine out of an ordeal that meant Eng- 
land and Holland, not Dorchester and Northampton. Only with the pass- 
ing of his generation can we find something that really is colonial in 
thought or provincial in undertaking. 

This something emerges not as an American revolt against the Euro- 
pean heritage, but as a list of miserable and regrettable failures. Every one 
had to deplore them, and all confessed that America was not living up to 
expectations. Only with the second generation, and then in terms not of 
achievement but of shortcoming, does New England begin to be local and 
domestic, does it even commence to be itself. For that generation, the 
sufferings of the founders were remote and truly vicarious, but mean- 
while certain facts hard work, threat of English interference, administra- 
tion of church and state, rearing the children these were daily perplexi- 
ties. They had become perplexing not because they were new obligations 
but because they were old ones in a new setting. A Winthrop, amid the 
perils of tempests and pirates, the rage of prelates and the mutiny of Anti- 
nomians, had taken them in stride; but the people of Dorchester and of 
every other New England town in 1657 had to perform the duties as 
Richard Mather recited the catalogue to which Winthrop's had given way 
amid "your eating & marriage . . . your buying & selling, your plowing 
and howing, your sowing & mowing and reaping, your feeding cattle and 
keeping sheep, your planting orchards & gardens, your baking and brewing, 
your building houses or outhouses, your fencing in ground or other business 
what ever." These, not what Symonds called "the great adventure," were 
the conditions of religious experience. 



Also I set watchmen over you, 

Saying, "Hearken to the sound of the trumpet." 

But they said, "We will not hearken." 

Therefore hear, ye nations, 

And know, O congregation, 

What is among them. 

Hear, earth' 

Behold, I will bring evil upon this people, 

Even the fiuit of their thoughts, 

Because they have not hearkened unto my words, 

Nor to my law, 

But rejected it. 

JEREMIAH 6:17-19 





first thanksgiving, held at Plymouth in 1621, has 
become enshrined m an American institution. In the seventeenth century, 
New England observed many days of rejoicing, but none in imitation of 
this original; all were ordered "pro temponbus et causis," according to the 
manner m which providence was dealing with the land. Accordingly, it 
observed mostly days of humiliation; over the years there were more 
chastisements than blessings. For the Puntan mind, to fix thanksgiving 
to a mechanical revolution of the calendar would be folly: who can say 
that in November there will be that for which thanks should be uttered 
rather than lamentation? By the time ceremonial gratitude can be chan- 
nelized into an annual festival, calculated in advance, society is reward- 
ing its own well-doing, not acknowledging divine favor. When this hap- 
pens, Calvinism is dead; though die society doggedly persists in giving 
autumnal thanks, it no longer has a mechanism for confessing its short- 
comings and seeking forgiveness for its trespasses. 

From the Puritan point of view, an event occurred at Plymouth in July 
of 1622 which, much more than the thanksgiving of 1621, ought to be 
remembered by posterity. The colony was suffering a terrible drought, 
crops were despaired of: when the situation became desperate, the authori- 
ties appointed a day of humiliation. Whereupon ram fell. The colony re- 
sponded with a second ceremonial a day of rejoicing and gratitude* 

Nothing in the doctrine governing these observances can be attributed to 
American experience. Even before the advance guard of Massachusetts Bay 
leached Salem, in 1629, ships were saved from storms, passengers from 
seasickness, whenever the Reverend Mr. Higginson held a fast. The pro- 
cedure worked a dramatic result in February of 1631: the canny Win- 
throp, realizing in the previous June that there would not be sufficient 
provisions for the winter, had despatched the Lyon back to England; when 
stores were almost exhausted, the magistrates called for a day of humili- 
ation upon which the Lyon hove into view. The colony immediately de- 
creed a day of thanksgiving but not to John Winthrop, who was only 
an instrument of providence. The Lord of Hosts brought the Lyon into 
Boston harbor, beyond all doubt in response to the day of humiliation. 

The success of these early fasts left upon the New England mind an 
impression in which we may locate minute beginnings of adaptation to an 


American situation. For the moment, however, events had merely fallen 
out according to imported doctrine, and the only question was from which 
authority should the summons issue. Ideally the call should come from the 
churches, because there men confess their sins and pi ay for relief. In the 
Bay, churches did in fact originally decide; whenever the General Court 
took the initiative, they expressed no more than a "generall desire," leaving 
the churches theoretically at liberty. For years many congregations went 
proudly through the form of voting whether they would concur. Yet gi ad- 
ually, because public distresses afflicted all alike, legislatures confidently 
assumed the function of summoning to repentance. The Massachusetts 
General Court first acted entirely on their own by voting a fast for Janu- 
ary 19, 1637; since Antmomianism was a threat to the entire body politic, 
the central government had to take measures for common safety without 
standing upon constitutional scruple. Of course, churches were always free 
to observe fasts according to local circumstances. During the Civil Wars, 
when the governments had to walk wanly to avoid openly offending either 
King or Presbyterians, they ordained few observances, discreetly allowing 
particular churches to set aside days for praying that their enemies be 

Thus a ritual or at least a ritualistic response to events took shape. 
Whatever afflicted the colonies became the occasion for a day of humilia- 
tion; whatever rejoiced them evoked a day of thanksgiving. In either event, 
worldly pursuits were laid aside (being inquests upon the significance of 
such work as the community had done in its various callings, these ob- 
servances could not be distracted by work itself) ; the people gathered in 
their churches, either to acknowledge their sins and promise reform, or else 
to thank God for the favor He had shown and to assure Him of contin- 
ued obedience. 

Before long, it became apparent that there were more causes 01 humili- 
ation than for rejoicing. Fasts had to be proclaimed because of dissen- 
sions and evil plots, "to prepare the way of friends which wee hope may 
bee comeing to us," for lack of rain or too much rain, for snow, cold, or 
heat. They were held in the face of smallpox, hailstorms, fires, winds, 
plagues, pests, tremblings of the earth, or witchcraft, and of such ominous 
prodigies as eclipses or comets; for years before Richard Mather gave his 
sermon to Dorchester, many of them lamented the passing o great founders. 

In later days, responses were neither so prompt nor so unequivocal as 
m earlier times. The fast held on December 13, 1638, to assuage grief 
caused by the necessity of banishing the Hutchinsonians, produced a tem- 
pest in which several lives were lost. This seems to have been the first 
moment doubt stirred: some even ventured to ask whether there were 
no better way of seeking the Lord, "because he seemed to discountenance 
the means of reconciliation." The General Court turned to the elders, who 
deduced that a second day should be kept "to seek further into the causes 
of such displeasure." In King Philip's War, repeated humiliations were 


followed by disasters, but the clergy had a ready explanation: the people 
had not sufficiently humbled themselves. Thus early, the first episodes 
began in retrospect to take on symbolic value: they had been answered 
because the society, as compared with now, was then virtuous. Therefore 
the present society, by repeating a once magical incantation, was trying to 
recapture something it had lost. The ministers' cry for more and more days 
of humiliation had reached a crescendo when, in June 1676, as the Indians 
were at long last checked, a secular insight proved to be in closer rapport 
with the will of God. Defying the advice of Increase Mather, the general 
courts of Connecticut and Massachusetts demanded a day of thanksgiving 
instead of contrition. Immediately victories increased, and by August, Philip 
was dead' 

The previous part of this study endeavored to show how the conception 
of a covenant was to certain English Puritans, above all to those who popu- 
lated New England, the master idea of the age. That the illimitable sov- 
ereign of the universe should relate Himself to His creatures not only as 
absolute power but as voluntarily abiding by the stated rules of His regime 
offered a solution to all difficulties,, not only theological but cosmological, 
emotional, and (most happily) political. This idea was the basis both of 
church polity and of social theory. Starting from the premise that a regen- 
erate person, entering the Covenant of Grace, is taken into legal compact 
with God (this being available to him because God and Christ had, in a 
previous compact between themselves, the Covenant of Redemption, pro- 
vided the foundation), federal theologians worked out a corollary that God 
likewise enters into covenant with a group as a unit. The two covenants 
personal and public were "branches" of the same, and yet distinct: saints 
dwelling alone may be in the Covenant of Grace without participating in 
a pledged society; a society may achieve this honor even though many (or 
most) of its citizens are not gracious. Over and above His contracts with 
persons, God settles the social terms with a band of men, which thereupon 
becomes committed, as a political entity, to a specifically enunciated political 

This philosophy of the national covenant was not only a logical deduc- 
tion from the Covenant of Grace, but also the theme of the Old Testament: 
Jacob wrestles in solitude with Jehovah, but Israel make their cohesion 
visible in an external organization a church, a corporation, a nation, even 
a plantation. In their corporate capacity, saints stand, as long as they hold 
together, in a relatiori to God separate from (although bound up with) 
their spiritual salvation. As a people they are chosen because by public act 
they have chosen God. The prerequisite is not, cannot be, a flawless sanctity 
of all citizens, but a deliberate dedication of the community to a communal 
decision, like a declaration of war. 

Theorists recognized at once that there are at least three respects in 
which a national covenant necessarily differs from the Covenant of Grace. 
A group exists only in this world: it does not migrate in toto to heaven; 


both saints and sinners leave their earthly community behind, along with 
their clothes and property. Hence the relation of God to a community is 
not internal but external and "foederall." It has lo do with conduct here 
and now, with visible success or tangible failure. Secondly, since a society 
cannot be rewarded in heaven for its obedience (whereas an individual 
may suffer torments here, but receive endless compensation hereafter), and 
cannot be punished in hell (a reprobate may prosper all his life, but suffer 
throughout eternity), it must perforce contract with the Almighty for ex- 
ternal ends. Its obedience, in short, means prosperity, its disobedience means 
war, epidemic, or ruin. "What concerns such a People as they are a Body, 
or a Company of Professors standing under the Obligations of such a Cove- 
nant, referrs unto this life and the Affairs of it." In the third place, a com- 
munity is not joined to God by so irrevocable a contract as will endure no 
matter how depraved it becomes. (A saint is at best imperfectly sanctified, 
but his sins have been atoned for j nothing he does, even the worst enormity, 
breaks the bond.) If a society, no matter how many saints may still be in it, 
sinks so deep into corruption that its abominations call for destruction, then 
the national covenant is ended. "It is true," said Thomas Shepard, "the 
Covenant effectually made, can never be really broke, yet externally it 

An ironic, or rather agonizing, paradox lies at the heart of this doctrine. 
In the course of nature (of "common providence"") any nation will have 
good or bad times; even Philistines wax before they wane. But a company 
received into the federal covenant has consciously accepted certain obliga- 
tions: it knows that its successes in war or business do not arise from acci- 
dent, from industry or ingenuity or opportunity, but that they are given. 
"For the substance the gist is one, both to the lust and vniust: but in re- 
spect of the cause, possession and vse, there is great difference: which is 
discerned by faith, though it cannot be secne with the eye." Wealth, for 
both the covenanted and uncovenanted, seems to flow from natural re- 
sources, from inventions and policy; but the gams of the chosen are "gifts" 
of the national covenant. 

Therefore it followed that for them afflictions arc reprimands, entirely 
dissimilar to reverses which befall, by chance, right or left, a natural cor- 
poration. France and Spain are unlucky, or they miscalculate, or smallpox 
ravages them, and that is that. But a nation in covenant is systematically 
punished, the degree of affliction being exquisitely proportioned to the 
amount of depravity. While thus being chastised it is still in covenant 
or, at least, as long as it has not committed the unpardonable sin which 
conclusively severs the covenant. Until that moment, no matter how bleak 
the prospect, there is always hope: if it reforms, it will recover the bless- 
ing. But where is that point of no return? On the one hand, a succession 
of disasters may be a sign that the nation is still chosen; on the other, a 
misery indefinitely prolonged may mean that it is forever lost. Was New 
England to say that defeats in Philip's War were no more than severe 


judgments upon an extreme decay of public morality, or was it to conclude 
that it had degenerated beyond recovery and been cast off? 

Long before Winthrop and his Company assembled in Southampton 
Water, federal theologians had supplied him with an ansv/er to this prob- 
lem; aboard the Arbella, before setting foot in America, he employed it* 

Thus stands the cause between God and vs, wee are entred into Covenant with 
him for this worke, wee haue taken out a Commission, the Lord hath giuen vs leaue 
to draw our owne Articles we haue professed to enterprise these Accions vpon these 
and these ends, wee haue hcrcvpon besought him of favour and blessing, 

His Christianity permitted him indeed, obliged him to define the pur- 
pose of this expedition as a set of articles drawn up by the adventurers 
themselves, which the Lord thereafter (m point of time) accepted. What- 
ever doubts or homesickness might trouble particular passengers, one thing 
was certain: the communal responsibility could be defined; the society 
might thereafter go terribly wrong, but it would always know what was 

The articles being thus definite, the sanctions become automatic. If the 
Lord has accepted our terms, He will seal the contract by bringing us to 
New England and prospering our settlement, if then we fail to observe 
them, "the Lord will surely breake out in wrathe against vs [,] be revenged 
of such a periured people and make vs knowe the price of the br cache of 
such a Covenant." We must on this account *'be knitt together in this 
worke as one man" because in the federal covenant a people are treated 
(externally) as one. This band was not as others, who sink or swim accord- 
ing to the hazard of wind and weather, but one that should be delivered 
by "foederall right" as long as it remained federally righteous. In the worst 
of times, this company would have a resort not permitted ordinary nations, 
the chance to bewail its transgressions. Thus it could always (by mending 
its ways) recoup its losses. 

The New England mind, at the moment of the founding, did not re- 
gard the federal theology and Calvinism (or more accurately Protestant- 
ism) as distinct systems. True theology was so thoroughly articulated in 
the language of the covenant that the founders had become as little con- 
scious they were talking a peculiar doctrine as was M. Jourdain that he 
spoke prose. The physical universe is under the continuous control of provi- 
dence, so that whatever comes to pass rainstorm, smallpox, earthquake 
is not mere natural law but judgment. Afflictions do not just happen, they 
are, literally, acts of God. In that sense, uncovenanted nations, dwelling 
in the realm of nature, are also subject to divine regulation; in theory, 
they may pray to God for deliverance, and He may be pleased to grant 
them succor if they reform. But they have no promise; their best en- 
deavors may prove unavailing. A plighted community can interpret events, 
and so take appropriate measures with the assurance of success. 

"As all good things are conveyed to Gods people, not barely by com- 


mon providence, but by speciall Covenant," said Shepard, "So all the 
evils they meet with in this world . . . upon narrow search will be found 
to arise from breach of Covenant more or lesse." The federal covenant does 
not shield a federated people from the wrath of God: it makes that wrath 
intelligible. Public humiliation was the only sure method of relieving pub- 
lic misfortune, not only because it sought for mercy, but because it trans- 
lated misfortune into a common resolution to do something about it. 

The doctrine of the national covenant was therefore of greatest value 
to New England as a more accurate way of searching social conscience than 
was permitted other nations, including England. Other communities, con- 
taining good and bad, cannot comprehend wherefore they arc punished; 
because the righteous suffer along with the unrighteous, confusion is con- 
founded. The godly can do nothing but go aside, pray in their secret cham- 
bers, and condemn the administration. But m a covenanted condition, the 
virtue as well as the ability of saints is put to work. Success or failure is not 
sporadic, not fragmentary, but universal. "Deliverances from common 
providence are common to all, even Pagans, but not such as spring from 
the vertue of the Covenant." Both deliverances and trials become meas- 
ures of fulfillment, and to the covenanted disclose what others can never 
perceive. For a dedicated people, seeking the Lord on a day of humiliation 
thus becomes a redefinition of the common purpose; a thanksgiving is a 
reaffirmation of it. 

To our ears, the proposition held forth in Winthrop's MotUil may at first 
sound like what Francis Bacon labeled a sophism, that felicity is most ad- 
mirable when gained by merit. True, the promise of blessing was attached 
to performance, but the Puritan Jehovah, even when tied in a covenant, 
was still inscrutable. The principal effect of distinguishing the federal cove- 
nant as a separate transaction from the Covenant of Grace was not to 
assert that public prosperity could be earned whereas personal comes only 
by election, but merely to mark off the public realm from the private, and 
to specify the difference in the respective terms. A prospering people 
would not relax in self-congratulation but would, as Winthrop told them, 
"see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly 
wee haue beene acquainted with." A communal thanksgiving, recognizing 
that felicity was a sign of divine favor, would therefore, in Bacon's phrase, 
create confidence and alacrity. So a day of humiliation would be a device 
both for regaining confidence and for reasserting, in the face of adversity, an 
assurance that felicity exists. John Cotton thus expounded the theory: 

To shew you how God is wont to expresse himself to his people, when we have 
broken Covenant with him, God will say, he will not look at us any moic, he will 
never protect us more, he will neither meddle nor make with us, but will expose us 
to all evil; now if hereupon we return and bewaile our breach of Covenant with 
God, how little good we have done, and how little serviceable we are, he is then 
wont to let us see, that his Covenant was never so far broken, but he can tell how 
to be good to us, for the Lord Jesus Christs sake. 


There was consolation in the worst of afflictions; a suffering individual 
knows he is being tried, yet must endure in silence and secret prayer; but 
something more is required from a trial imposed upon an entire people. 
Because outward afflictions signify the presence of God, a people need not 
despair: their sins, the stupidity of their politicians and generals, even their 
most furious dissensions, cannot destroy the body politic so long as they 
retain a sense periodically remvigorated that their material welfare, 
although depending upon their own exertions, depends not entirely upon 

A writer does not come to so succinct a statement of a body of thought 
as Winthrop achieved in A Modell of Christian Charity unless he has 
re-thought and digested the speculations of his predecessors. The decision at 
Cambridge on August 26, 1629, to transport the charter of the Massa- 
chusetts Bay Company to America was reached in fear and trembling. 
Behind Wmthrop's exposition hes a deep conviction: the heroic attempt of 
two generations to bring England into federal covenant had failed; the 
nation seemed too far gone in depravity ever to be reunited to the bond. 
By the 1620's those Englishmen who found in the covenant a key to the 
universe had no other choice but to form themselves into smaller societies; 
they could prove that units might observe the external terms, even if Eng- 
land did not. Though the external covenant was called "national" it was 
not a nationalistic conception, Winthrop did not conceive of the migrants 
as a nation, but as a "Company," a "Community." Nor did he conceive of 
the federal covenant as being made with the soil of New England: he did 
not say that God had taken this piece of terrain and all upon it into the 
treaty. God was covenanting with the band, who had to foregather in 
some one "place of Cohabitation and Consorteshipp." Theoretically, this 
group might stay in England, as did many of their comrades, and still 
collect themselves into a covenanted society; they were simply convinced 
that it could be better done elsewhere. 

The Great Migration thought of itself as achieving corporate identity by 
the act of migrating, but it did not identify the covenant its promise of 
good to virtue and of evil to vice with the opportunity of America. Any 
place in the world would have served. Massachusetts was only a con- 
venient (not too convenient) platform on which the gathering might be 
enacted, so that the city upon a hill would be visible to Europe. The doc- 
trine was developed as a way of finding hope for England, but had to be 
tried out in Massachusetts. This is what Winthrop meant by carefully 
selecting a title for his mid-ocean discourse: it was a "modell" of that to 
which England might yet be reclaimed, and of "charity," which meant, 
not giving alms to the poor, but the knitting of individuals together as one 
man in order to obtain the prosperity of all. The federal cast ot mind could 
conceive of charity only in a social context, requiring the reduction of 
complexity to a single rationale. Were this model ever to triumph in 
England, the founders might well go home. 


John Cotton had preached in Lincolnshire, "Where ever Gods servants 
are, because of his Covenant with them, where ever they crave a blessing, 
and mourne for the want of it, God will provide it shall be stretched forth 
upon <-he whole Country they live in." When he said this, he was trying to 
tell English Puritans that they did not need to be a majority, or to control 
the economy, before they could be of some effect in saving their country. 
Since the reward was not to be earned but given, they could, in a compre- 
hensible way, become the occasion for it. What was necessary in 1629 was 
an organization of the saving remnant, which was not a geographical desig- 
nation. In order to rescue England, that remnant Jtiad to demonstrate by 
a strict performance of articles in a covenant how a society thrives. This 
was what Winthrop meant by a city set upon a hill, he did not mean what 
today we call Boston. 

Because those who came to New England had decided that there was 
slight hope for the covenant at home, they brought it about that a new land 
became the setting for experiment. Winthrop did hope "that men shall 
say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England," 
but he was not voicing incipient patriotism. New England was not an 
allegiance, it was a laboratory. The theory of feast and of fast days was 
already complete in every detail: it had not been invented as an engine of 

Yet that is what it became. John Cotton may have meant, even after 
he removed to Boston, that because the blessing would be stretched forth 
upon the land of the saints, they in New England would obtain it for 
England. In England, as in all Europe, while victory seemed impossible, 
still defeat was inconclusive. But failure in America would be clean-cut. 
Here the inhabitants were no longer, Winthrop told them, scattered and 
oppressed cells, "absent from cache other many miles, and had our imploy- 
ments as farre distant," but were now in the "good Land" which they had 
passed over the vast sea to possess. They did possess it. To confess through 
formal lamentation that they had not come up to European expectation 
now amounted to a confession of American shortcomings. It might be 
failure, but it was theirs. So, by an exceedingly oblique device, the more 
these people accused themselves of having shirked their covenant, the more 
they asserted that they had not lost confidence. 

After the isolation into which New England was driven by the Civil 
Wars, that faith perforce became one with the possibilities of New England 
alone. Imperceptibly the cry became less "the sins of the people," and more 
often "the sins of the land." Public purgations on days of humiliation, after 
experiences of divine wrath, became a method of recognizing, if not quite 
of becoming reconciled to, the actualities of American life. This was not a 
logical development: it was a matter of having lived long enough, deeply 
enough, in this particular country. 



twenty years the fast day functioned, on the whole, 
as the founders anticipated. To survivors of those glorious decades, as John 
Hull recollected, "The Lord . . . wab wont to hear before we called, 
when we did but purpose to seek God." He kept His rein upon them, 
"chastening and trying, nurturing, lopping, and pruning his poor children, 
by his own fatherly hand, foi their good, from one year to another." All 
this was to be expected: events are significances, and the moment they 
become a pruning, a day of humiliation must be appointed whereupon 
misfortune is rectified. The procedure quickly became standardized, the 
formula appearing, for example, in the call issued by the Massachusetts 
General Court in 1648. First, a recital of afflictions: distractions in England 
and an unfamiliar disease in New England, a drought, and the mortality 
of our countrymen in the West Indies, (The collocation itself shows how 
Massachusetts conceived itself one among the family of Protestant com- 
munities, how difficulties in London or St. Christopher were emotional 
concerns in Boston,) Then follows the prescription: the General Court 
resolve that these matters be forthwith "intimated" to the churches, and 
that April 20 be appointed: "all persons are hereby required to abstaine from 
bodily labor that day, & to resort to the publike meetings, to seeke the Lord, 
as becomes Christians in a day of humiliation." As for New England health 
and weather, this observance worked the customary relief. (Of course, as a 
contribution toward the prosperity of England and the Indies, it could be 
no more than an assistance, for those people would have to secure their own 

What should be noted in this proclamation is the scrupulous distinction 
between physical afflictions the disease and the drought and sins. There 
is implicit recognition of a causal sequence: the sins exist, the disease breaks 
out 5 the sins are reformed, the disease is cured. The founders regarded the 
Antinomian frenzy not as in itself a sin but as an affliction because of sins. 
"Our wise God (who seldome suffers his own, in this their wearysome 
Pilgrimage to be long without trouble) sent a new storme after us which 
proved the sorest tryall that ever befell us since we left our Native soyle." 
In this case the method was not, as we have seen, immediately efficacious, 
but, severely tested through two intense decades, it still proved reliable. 
The Lord blessed His people "with great prosperity and success, increasing 


and multiplying, protecting and defending from all mischievous contriv- 
ances, supplying and furnishing with all necessaries, maugrc all adversaries." 

We may look upon October 19, 1652, as crucial in American history. 
On that day the General Court ordained a fast, and again listed the reasons 
(most of them conventional, such as storms and rams, wars in England) 
but also, for the first time, included the provoking sins "the worldly 
mindedness, oppression, & hardhartedness feared to be among us" among 
the afflictions. Corruption itself now appeared not as a cause but a visitation 
of wrath. 

At the beginning, shift in emphasis was so imperceptible that it might 
have been merely careless phraseology except that the tendency, once 
started, gathered momentum. At this point the people began to turn from 
external to internal: instead of looking upon sensible deprivations as retribu- 
tions for crimes already committed, they confessed that their consciousness 
of sinfulness was itself a curse upon the body politic. Within another ten 
years the formula was completely transformed; proclamations concen- 
trated more and more upon the sins themselves, reducing the resulting dis- 
tresses to footnotes. By the time Richard Mather spoke, the orders usually 
read, "the great security & sensuality vnder our present injoyments, the sad 
face on the rising generation." Although such calamities as Philip's War, 
or droughts and tempests, received due notice, still the summonses of the 
seventies were expanding recitals of spiritual failures and moral deficiencies 
rather than catalogues of misfortune. 

Hard-heartedness, security, sloth, sensuality, lack of zeal among the 
children, declension from "primitive affections," formality, hypocrisy 
these took the place of caterpillars, shipwrecks, mildew, and the more 
visible "tokens of Gods displeasure." The subjective preempted the objec- 
tive: a universal anxiety and insecurity had become no longer something 
which, being caused, could be allayed by appropriate action, but rather 
something so chronic that the society could do nothing except suffer and 
perpetually condemn itself. In the thirty years after 1660, the conception 
of the relation of society to the divine was unwittingly (and unintentionally) 
transformed into a thesis which positively reversed primitive doctrine. The 
mental anguish of the second and third generatiors was intensified because, 
while recognizing that somehow they had declined, they had lost the 
measure by which to decipher exactly how much or why. And so the day of 
humiliation became, not a blood-letting and a cure, but an increase of 
appetite that grew by what it fed upon. 

The ceremonial of the fast day the whole town gathered in the 
church inevitably centered upon the sermon. The ministers were, on 
these occasions more than on any other, the voice of the community, articu- 
lators of its awareness and spokesmen for its resolve to reform. They 
quickly devised a special kind of sermon for these convocations. Instinctively 
they responded to the demands of the situation: they arraigned sins that 
had caused the judgments, and pointed out what other terrors would descend 


unless repents nee were forthcoming. The founding clergy had had many 
other topics to occupy their minds- the problem of church polity which 
was not, as is witnessed by the treatises of Cotton, Hooker, Richard Mather, 
and Davenport, a merely organizational question, but one of vast philo- 
sophical range and also the task of expounding the whole of life in the 
rhetoric of the plain style j hence the poetic and metaphysical sweep of 
discourses by Hooker or by Shepard. After 1660, those great issues were, 
for the New England communities, resolved. The doctrine of the Congre- 
gational church was settled, to its farthest implication, a library containing 
the works of the founders, along with those of the great Puritan theologians 
of England, made the cosmos comprehensible upon the premise of the 
covenant. For epigones the duty was no longer speculation: it was to per- 
form, and to see that the people performed, what was demanded of them. 

Hence the one literary type which the first native-born Americans in- 
evitably developed, into which they poured their energy and their passion, 
was the fast-day sermon. On annual days of election, in the spring, 
after officers were installed and oaths taken, before turning to business the 
General Court regularly listened to a sermon which, under the circum- 
stances, was bound to be more a review of recent afflictions than an 
exposition of doctrine; ministers chosen for the occasion would try then to 
be their most impressive. Thus they developed, amplified, and standardized 
a type of sermon for which the rules were as definite as for the ode. Where 
the most characteristic creations of the founders were subtle explorations of 
the labyrinth of sin and regeneration employing, as did Shepard and 
Hooker, a complex psychological doctrine, full of shadow and nuance 
for the second generation the dominant literary form, almost the exclusive, 
is something we may term, for shorthand purposes, a "jeremiad." Although 
the practitioners themselves never quite distinguished it by name from the 
sermon in general, it quickly became so precise a formula as to be immedi- 
ately recognizable to the student of types as, no doubt, it was to the 
audiences at the time. 

The structure of this jeremiad was prescnbed by the theory of external 
covenant. Perforce it addressed mankind not as beings of a complicated 
psychology, but as creatures governed by a simple calculus. The "doctrine" 
must be some proposition that they are pertinaciously pursued for their sins, 
any of a hundred verses in the Old Testament would supply the text, 
especially in Isaiah or Jeremiah. The "reasons" would then become ex- 
positions of the national covenant, its terms, conditions, and duties. But the 
real substance of the discourse came at the end, in the "applications" or 
"uses," where the preacher spelled out the significance of the situation. 
Here he enumerated, in as much detail as he had courage for, the provoca- 
tions to vengeance, proposed a scheme of reformation, and let his imagina- 
tion glow over the still more exquisite judgments yet in store unless his 
listeners acted upon his recommendations. A minister's reputation for 
eloquence came to be based upon the skill with which he could devise 


prognostications of a mounting disaster, by contrast with which the present 
suffering dwindled into mere annoyance. 

The second generation, between 1660 and 1690, could not so easily 
send manuscripts to London as had Hooker and Cotton, or be so assured of 
a publisher there ; they had to depend mainly on the creaking little presses of 
Cambridge and Boston, Notes taken by faithful attendants show that 
ministers did expound the more abstract themes of Protestant theology; 
Samuel Willard worked his way, on successive Sabbaths in the 1690's, 
through the entire system, leaving at his death the summa of New England 
doctrine, A Corrrflcat Body of Divinity. But in the middle decades of the 
seventeenth century, virtually the only works for which there was a domestic 
sale were jeremiads either a particularly brilliant one at some local cere- 
mony or those officially pronounced before the General Court. 

We can trace the forming of the jeremiad as early as the late 1640's, in 
the last publications of Shepard and Cotton, but the theme was first fully 
set forth by Michael Wigglesworth in 1662, in a verse meditation which 
may lay claims to poetry, entitled (as all jeremiads might be) God*s Con- 
troversy with New-England: 

Ah dear New England I dearest land to me, 

Which unto God hast hitherto been dear. 
And mayst be still more dear than jormertie, 

If to his voice thou wilt incline thine ear. 

Thanks to the passion which Wigglesworth put into these strophes we com- 
mence with a certain insight into motives that glow less conspicuously in 
his prosaic followers. In his senior year at Harvard, 1650, he had written, 
"Doth it affect with grief? why to be so grieved is no grievance. Doth it 
kindle coales, nay flames of fiery indignation? why those flames burn not, 
but rather cherish." Without this psychological clue, the student finds the 
form barren indeed; it was intended to draw tears from the eyes, but it 
also implied, in Wigglesworth's terms, "why even tears flow with pleasure." 
Higginson's election sermon of 1663, The Cause of God and- His Peo- 
ple in New-Englandy approaches the pattern which achieved definite out- 
line with Jonathan Mitchell's Nehemiah on the Wall in 1667 and William 
Stoughton's Now Englands True Interest in 1668. Later practitioners, 
paying deference to these as their models, could ring no other changes ex- 
cept to add to the increasing array which the General Court catalogued 
before every order for humiliation. The foremost published utterances of 
the 1670's were all jeremiads, some of which made so deep an impression 
as to be cited down to the Revolution. These were Samuel Danforth's 
A Brief Recognition of New England"** Errand into the Wilderness in 1670, 
the younger Thomas Shepard's Eye-Salve in 1672, Urian Oa'kes's New 
England Pleaded With in 1673, William Hubbard's remarkable The Haf- 
finess of a People in 1676, Increase Mather's bid for ascendancy among 
the New England clergy, The Day of Trouble is Near in 1673, and the 


election sermon which marked his attainment of it, A Discourse Concern- 
ing the Danger of Apostacy m 1677. 

By calling the jeremiad a literary type I mean that it was more than 
a rhetorical exercise. Its hold upon the New England mind for four or 
five genciitions is an instance of the tyranny of form over thought. But 
there is a vastly more important consideration' art requires conventions 
which emphasize the relevant aspects of experience ; a new convention, says 
W. H. Auden, is a revolution m sensibility "It appeals to and is adopted by 
a generation because it makes sense of experiences which previously had 
been ignored." For the second and third generations of New England, 
the jeiemiad was the one appropriate convention because it made sense out 
of their unique experience. After a time, it became stereotyped; after a 
century we may well call it, in Auden's language, "reactionary," but in 
the beginning it was, however manufactured according to formula, a vision. 
It was a way of conceiving the inconceivable, of making intelligible order 
out of the transition from European to American experience. 

How profoundly the conception gripped the minds of these generations 
may be seen in its effects upon other utterances beside the fast-day sermons. 
Proclamations of the General Court and Wigglesworth's veises are cases 
in point, as also are the most deeply felt of Edward Taylor's secretive 
lyrics. A more public example is the composition of history. During King 
Philip's War, Increase Mather kept daily notes, and immediately after the 
victory made out of them A Brief History of the Warr wtth the Indians in 
New-England, for which he secured in 1676 a publisher in London. Histo- 
rians of literature have lumped this together with chronicles of the immi- 
grant generation Bradford's, Wmthrop's, Johnson's as one more illus- 
tration of how the Puritans conceived history to be a record of divine 
providences. They fail to see the vast difference m structure between an 
account like Bradford's, which moves serenely from point to point, morally 
improving each incident, and Mather's conscious organization of his story 
into a dialectic of decline and recovery, which he thus imposes upon history. 
Bradford tells of pilgrims undertaking a long, winding journey, who con- 
stantly lift up their eyes to heaven, "their dearest cuntrie"j Johnson enu- 
merates a succession of "wonder-working providences" which ripple along 
for the duration of the book. Even Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress which is 
also a history gets its coherence from the flow of the standard phases in 
the process of conversion ; the direction of the narrative is steadily forward, 
even the deviations returning, another step along the way, into the pre- 
destinated path. The plan of Mather's history is neither succession nor 
progression: it is a fall and then a recovery of society. As events pile up, 
the descent accelerates, so that the outcome is for long in doubt. The se- 
quence is not one thing after another, but an agonizing drop, a crisis, and 
then the dramatic ascent. In that sense because this is what happened 
to a visible people, within the frame of their external covenant the story 
itself contains its only meaning; Mather's history is not allegory, as Bun- 


yan's explicitly is and as the histories of the immigrant Puritans implicitly 
are. This fact marks a revolution ui sensibility, enacted by the first genera- 
tion born in America. 

Mather concluded his book with "a senous Exhortation to the Inhabit- 
ants of the Land" this he says was "the thing which I mainly designed." 
He resolved "to Methodize" his notes; the thesis controls the composition, 
so that episodes are strung upon it and do not give rise, as in the Inter- 
preter's House, to random moralizalions. This drama opens like a classical 
French tragedy with an intelligible theme: precisely on the evening of a 
day of humiliation at Swansea, Indians attack the homecoming congregation, 
"the Lord thereby declaring from Heaven that he expected something else 
from his People besides Fasting and Prayer." The logic of the narrative is 
controlled by a precise calculation: defeat must be measured out until the 
amount of present distress becomes equal to past transgression. In the 
swamp fight of July 19, 1675, had they pressed the attack, the colonists 
might have destroyed Philip, "But God saw we were not yet fit for De- 
liverance, nor could Health be restored unto us except a great deal more 
Blood be first taken from us." When it seemed that no more could be 
endured, the General Court, on October 19, called a committee to frame 
laws for the reformation of manners; that very day "the Lord gave suc- 
cess to our Forces" at Hatfield. At last, on May 9, 1676, a really immense 
and impressive day of humiliation was held in Boston by all magistrates, 
elders, and people, and a sincere repentance and reformation were sworn to. 
Thereupon the bottom was sounded, the crisis was over. "There are [those] 
who have dated the turn of Providence towards us in this Colony, and 
against the Enemy in a wonderful manner, from this day forward." Con- 
cealing the fact that he himself had miscalculated, Mather now locates the 
day of thanksgiving oai June 29 at precisely the right moment for the 
upswing of action, and crowns the design of his history by showing -that 
immediately after the proclaiming of a second day of thanksgiving, so 
that a chastened and now reformed people might see the coherence ot 
their drama, God delivered Philip into their hands. The entire history 
using the word in a Shakespearean sense with its sweep of declension, 
its abrupt reversal, and its swift denouement, hinged upon the "wonder- 
ful success against the Enemy, which the Lord hath blessed them with, 
ever since they renewed their Covenant with him." This is patently no 
mere progress nor simple chronological collection of providences: this is 
social adventure within a schematic framework, with a definite resolu- 
tion: "Therefore have we good reason to hope that this Day of Trouble, 
is near to an end, if our sins doe not undoe all that hath been wrought 
for us." 

Remarking that a convention emphasizes certain aspects of experience, 
Auden also notes that it must perforce dismiss others to the background. 
What has been dismissed by Mather's treatment is the over-all theological 


the cosmic perspective of Bradford or Johnson (although Mather still 
believes in the same sort of cosmos). What has happened is a concentra- 
tion of emotion upon the destiny of a group, so that forms of thought and 
of speech are organized about this center, while other modes of discourse, 
even though kept up in ordinary Sabbath sermons, persist only as mementos 
of a vanished past. This form alone could draw out the energy and imag- 
ination of the Americanized Puritan artist. The greatest effort in the 
century to organize the experience of this people, Cotton Mather's Mag- 
nalia Christi Americana^ throughout its 1400 pages from the opening 
bar, "I write the Wonders of the Christian Religion, flying from the 
Depravations of Europe, to the American Strand," to its final coda, "Do 
we dream that the Almighty hath spent all his arrows?" is a colossal 

Increase Mather's Brief History illustrates one technical problem inherent 
in the convention: the jeremiad could make sense out of existence as long 
as adversity was to be overcome, but in the moment of victory it was con- 
fused. It had always to say that now the day of trouble may be ended, that 
God has thus far "answered us by terrible things in righteousness" if only 
our sins do not again undo us. It flourished in dread of success; were real- 
ity ever to come up to its expectations, a new convention would be re- 
quired, and this would presuppose a revolution in mind and in society. 
Mather was proud to relate how in 1675 the Assistants undertook some- 
thing more serious than fasting and prayer, that they legislated actual re- 
forms; he was happy to demonstrate that the maneuver succeeded, but 
he could not become confident that victory was final, even with the death 
of Philip. A few months consoled him: fires, shipwrecks, and epidemics 
increased. By the summer of 1679, the General Court were resolved that 
something radical had to be done; they issued a call to the churches to 
assemble in Synod and to give, once and for all, an answer to the two 
questions which had become the main, indeed the only, concern: "What 
are the provoking evils of New England?" and "What is to be done, that 
so those evils may be reformed?" 

The jeremiad would be obliged to comment on the social scene in terms 
recognizable to those who knew it, but the remarkable fact about the suc- 
cession of sermons is how stylized became the categories under which de- 
fections were grouped and arranged. As with "arguments" m logic, data 
were ordered according to Ramist "method." The Result of the Synod 
was not so much a fresh survey as a digest of previous inventories. As 
long as we understand that it was bound to be cast into a now stabilized 
mold, we may cautiously read it as a description of society. But properly 
to interpret it, we must remember how the Magnolia betrays the actual 
situation by confessing that the people had not really sunk so far into cor- 
ruption as in other places; it was only that New England, being under the 
greatest "obligations," was to be held criminal for "omissions" which in 
other countries were more or less normal "commissions"! The Result 


must not, therefore be taken too literally, but rather construed as the cli- 
max of an emerging ritual. It was not sociological investigation, it was 
purgation by incantation. 

Fortunately for us, the authors of the Result (the chief penman was 
Increase Mather) were students of Petrus Ramus and therefore knew 
that first things should be put first. Hence they systematically enumei- 
ated the causes of God's displeasure. Number one on their list was "a great 
and visible decay of the power of Godliness amongst many Professors in 
these Churches. 1 ' This was the heart of the matter: there are too many, 
said the Synod, who commit apostasy "especially m Secret." It was not a 
question, as Urian Oakes had made clear in 1673, of professors making 
"any notorious and scandalous Digression and Diversion from the good 
waves of God"; it was merely their "drudging and plodding on in a vis- 
ible regular course of Obedience and Profession." Then he added: "Yet 
behold, WJiat a weariness is it?" Revealing phrases were heaped up: "a 
careless, rimiss, flat, dry cold dead frame of spirit"; security "in this Land 
of Rest, Quietness, and Fulness of Spiritual Enjoyments"; many have 
gone "a great way by civill honesty and morality, and if one be gone so 
far, he is accounted to be m a state of salvation." By 1674 a generation 
had arisen, said Increase Mather, "who give out, as if saving Grace and 
Morality were the same." This was the ultimate in confusion. Of course, 
Increase added lest confusion be confounded morality is all very well. 
"such persons are nearer to conversion than prophane ones are." Still, "this 
may be without Grace." New Englanders could not rest in being, accord- 
ing to William Stoughton, "empty outside Custom born Christians." But 
for lack of sound principles, "the Profession of so many hath run it self 
out of breath, and broke its neck in these dayes." The second generation, 
we are delighted to perceive, still had something of the rhetorical preci- 
sion, the concreteness of imagery, of Hooker. Many have grown, said 
Oakes, "Sermon-proof." 

We had as good preach to the Heavens and Earth, and direct our discourse to 
the Walls and Seats and Pillars of the meeting house, and say, Hear, O ye Walls, 
give ear O ye Seats and Pillars, as to many men in these Churches, that are deaf to 
all that is cried in their ears by the Lords Messengers, and arc indeed like Rocks in 
the Sea, not to be stirred and moved by the beating and dashing of these waters of 
the Sanctuary, or by the strongest gust of rational and affectionate discourse that 
can blow upon them. 

As time went on, it must be said, such dramatic imagery dwindled. It 
survives in William Hubbard's sermon of 1676, but Increase Mather had 
already reduced it to the balder sort of proposition which thereafter be- 
came the norm: "How hath the Lord been disappointed m his righteous 
and reasonable Expectations concerning us ? " So it behooved the Synod 
to pass on to point number two, the most flagrant manifestation of this 


rubric were grouped three manifestations which might seem to any but 
a federalist theologian disparate- contention in the churches, disrespect of 
inferiors toward superiors, and extravagance in apparel. On second thought, 
the logic of the grouping becomes apparent' if a people committed in a 
national covenant begin to slacken in devotion, they will rebel against their 
federation by several seemingly unconnected forms of self-assertion. They 
will insult, their betters, or dress beyond their means, or quarrel with their 
brethren; in every case, they are trying to escape their pledge. The Synod 
noted that servants and "the poorer sort" were notoriously guilty, but also, 
like the preachers, commented upon "such excess, gaudmess & fantastical- 
ness in those that have estates." Leaders were persuaded in the darkest days 
of Philip's War that defeats in battle could be attnbuted to "monstrous 
and horrid Pern wigs, . . . Borders and False Lockes and such like whor- 
ish Fashions." These could thus be denounced as private indulgences which, 
by infringing the national covenant, endangered the lives of others. Like- 
wise within the churches, a humbling of pride would restore harmony. 
"Strict and impartial Examination would yield large matter of uncontrol- 
able Conviction as to such as these." Instead, said the Synod, there are 
"Sinful Heats and Hatreds, and that amongst Church Members them- 
selves, who abound with evil Surmisings, uncharitable and unrighteous 
Censures, Back-bitings, hearing and telling Tales." Here we note the 
completion of the process by which external misfortunes were merged 
into internal accusations: these disasters were acts riot of God but of the 
people against each other. 

The remainder of the Synod's catalogue, which again was a condensa- 
tion of charges already formulated in the jeremiads, consists of a more de- 
tailed enumeration of crimes, treating them not as causes of affliction but 
as disasters m and of themselves. The third heading was heresy, not only 
that imported by Quakers and Anabaptists but that emanating from pro- 
fessors who "hearken & adhere to their own fancyes and Satans delu- 
sions." The fourth was swearing and sleeping during seimons; the fifth 
was Sabbath-breaking, and especially that outburst of depravity which 
came at sundown on Sunday, when the Puritan Sabbath ended. ("There 
is more wickedness committed usually on that night, than in all the week 
besides.") The sixth was a decay of family discipline: parents becoming 
"cockering," Jetting children ^have their swinge, to go and come where 
and when they please, and especially in the night." Number seven was an 
increase of angry passions exhibited not only in church strife but m the 
growing number of lawsuits. (The jeremiads, clinging to the original 
Puritan conviction that litigation could be settled by the Bible and com- 
mon sense, steadily called for the suppression of attorneys, who "will for 
their own ends espouse any Case right or wrong . . . such as care not 
who loses, so they may gain.") 

The eighth head of the Synod's Result was devoted to sins which 
loomed large in the jeremiads, sex and alcohol. According to the ministers, 


militia training days were rapidly losing any semblance of what is cus- 
tomarily called Puritanism: "Every Farmers Son, when he goes to the 
Market-Town, must have money in his purse; and when he meets with 
his Companions, they goe to the Tavern or Ale-house, and seldome away 
before Drunk, or well tipled." Dunrg the war against Philip, preachers 
first discovered or first confessed discovering that traders in the back 
country were debauching the Indians with rum ; this of course was a cry- 
ing abuse of the national cdvenant, because the founders had sworn to 
convert heathens, but it was still more terrible because it was a perfect 
illustration of how sm becomes its own retribution: drunken Indians, or 
Indians wanting drink, run amuck. As for sexual morality, the jeremiads 
record a thriving promiscuity. In 1672 one Alice Thomas made what 
appears to be the first attempt in Boston to operate, in the language of 
the General Court, "a stewe, whore house, or brothell house." She suc- 
ceeded so far as to give frequent "Entertainment" to persons of both sexes, 
until she was taken and whipped through the streets. The ministers were 
convinced that if so much fornication was discovered, "how much is there 
of secret wantonness & wicked dalliances?" For the Puritan always knew, 
in theology or in manners, "that which is seen is nothing in comparison 
of that which is not." 

The ninth in the Synod's tabulation was a brief note on the want of 
truth among men (in 1673 Oakes had declared that too many Yankees 
"have gone to School to Machiavel"), but we are most arrested by the 
peculiar grouping of enormities which the Synod put under its tenth head- 
ing, "Inordinate affection unto the world." For what it here described, 
drawing again upon the jeremiads, was nothing less than mercantile, 
capitalistic, competitive New England. This tenth chapter is the first sys- 
tematic description of State Street. 

The sermon which fixed the type of the jeremiad, John Higginson's of 
1663, .said that the Lord had not stirred the founders by the promise of 
wealth. "Nor had we any rationall grounds to expect such a thing in such 
a wilderness as this." (That use of "rationall" is notable.) God has blessed 
certain of us, who therefore "have encreased here from small beginnings 
to great estates"; nevertheless, New England was originally a plantation 
not of trade but of religion "Let Merchants and such as are increasing 
Cent per Cent remember this." If the Result of 1679 is to be believed, 
they had just about forgotten, but still they were increasing cent per cent. 

The founders, of course, wanted land; they tried to parcel it out care- 
fully in town grants. But as early as 1642 John Cotton found many dis- 
posed to cry, "If we could have large elbow-roome enough, and meddow 
enough, though wee had no Ordinances, we can then goe and live like 
lambs in a large place." He told them severely that if this was their frame 
of mind, "you may have part in Reformation of Churches, but no part in 
the resurrection of Christ Jesus." The jeremiads chronicle the augmenting 
lust to live like lambs until, as the Synod put it conservatively, "There hath 


been in many professors an insatiable desire after Land." In 1676 Increase 
Mather could not be so temperate. "Land' Land! hath been the Idol of 
many in New-England." The first settlers considered themselves rich 
with an acre a person and twenty acres for a family, but "how many Men 
since coveted after the earth, that many hundreds, nay thousands of Acres, 
have been engrossed by one man, and they that profess themselves Chris- 
tians, have forsaken Churches, and Ordinances, and all for land and elbow- 
room enough in the World." Thus the real-estate speculator makes his 
entrance into American literature, as the second and third generations 
grew longer and longer elbows. 

As the frontier expanded and ships put further out to sea, trade in- 
creased. In 1639 Robert Keayne was fined for buying as cheaply as he 
could and selling for the highest price he could get; even then, his fellow 
merchants protested on the ground that "a certain rule could not be found 
out for an equal rate between buyer and seller." Only the authority of 
John Cotton could force them to accept the rule of the "just price," but 
with his passing the records show a steady deterioration of regulatory 
efforts; while ministers repeated Cotton's dicta, the people did not obey. 

Still more ominously, the lower orders began to reply in kind. If m 
1673 Oakes could complain of much "Griping, and Squeesmg, and Grind- 
ing the Faces of the poor," what wonder that by 1679 the Synod should 
have to bewail that "Day-Labourers and Mechanics are unreasonable m 
their demands"? Charles Chauncy had said in 1655 that if a poor man 
wanted a pair of shoes, or clothes to cover his nakedness, "truely he must 
be fain almost to sell himself, to get some mean commodities"; by 1674 
Increase Mather could give a more penetrating description of the eco- 
nomic process* "A poor man cometh amongst you, and he must have a 
Commodity whatever it cost him, and you will make him give whatever 
you please, and put what price you please upon what he hath to give too, 
without respecting the just value of the thing." Two years later, with the 
bluntness that was always his most engaging quality, he exclaimed, "And 
what a shame it is that ever that odious sin of Usury should be pleaded for, 
or practised in New-England, especially by such as should give a better 
example?" John Dunton is not always a reliable witness, but he reported 
that in the New England of 1686 the art of cheating had become a "piece 
of Ingenuity" called by the genteel name of outwitting. The ministers 
possessed a somewhat larger frame of reference, and measuring facts by 
the original economic code, they again were able to gauge the curve of 
evolution along which the society was being carried by forces it could not 

The final two chapters of the Synod's discourse portrayed an unwilling- 
ness of the people to reform their evil ways and a corresponding disintegra- 
tion of "publick spirit." By this were meant specifically reluctance to sup- 
port the ministry and neglect of education; the ministers were fighting not 
only for their salaries but for the Puritan ideal of intellect and scholarship. 


Unan Oakes hated to bear "too hard in this Case upon the people, that are 
generally poor and low enough," but the slenderness of ministers' mainte- 
nance in many churches was becoming alarming. Without a supply of 
learned men, support at a decent level of subsistence, "who sees not what 
Ignorance, and Rudeness, and Barbarism will come in like a Floud upon 
us?" True, Samuel Willard said, we "do not think the Spirit is locked 
up in the narrow limits of Colledge Learning," but on the other hand, 
ministerial gifts are not ordinarily "acquired in a Shoemakers Shop." Hub- 
bard's oration of 1676 was the first clear enunciation of a theme which 
henceforth was a constant in discussions of the intellectual life, that "in 
other Nations" men of education and study have the chief management 
of affairs, and the like should "be necessary for the better ordering the 
affairs of Israel." 

The Synod did not pretend that its digest was original: "The things 
here insisted on, have . . . been oftentimes mentioned and inculcated by 
those whom the Lord hath set as Watchmen to the house of Israel." 
Although the second half of the Result offered a program of reforma- 
tion, still it did not breathe an overwhelming confidence of success. Two 
decades later, Cotton Mather ruefully, yet with a certain air of relief, 
acknowledged that it had always been "a matter of most sensible observa- 
tion" that a reforming synod could not accomplish universal reformation. 
But if it could not, by curing the vices, make the jeremiad obsolete, it 
could do the next best thing, supply preachers with the subject matter of 
further jeremiads. Or as Cotton Mather put it, "Faithful ministers were 
thereby strengthened in lifting up their voices like trumpets." They had 
merely to review the Synod's twelve headings, keep the list up to date, 
and then deduce their exhortations. 

The Result, by its very existence, further forced upon the content of 
the jeremiad an additional theme: open admission that the form had be- 
come a stereotype. In the 1680's appears the first intimation that listeners 
were getting a bit bored with the business; many, said Willard, suspect 
that these warnings are "nothing else but the mistakes of an irregular 
(though well minded) zeal, or the dumps and night visions of some 
melancholick spirits." Yet, even knowing that jeremiads "have been con- 
demned by some, contemned by many more, scarcely believed by any," 
ministers continued to preach them. What else could they do? 

The most conspicuous works of the 1680's continued the pattern: 
Willard's The Only Sure Way to Prevent Threatened Calamity in 1682, 
Samuel Torrey's A Plea "for the Life of Dying Religion in 1683, and 
William Adams' God's Eye on the Contrite in 1685. Then came the loss 
of the charter. New England was rudely subjected to the "despotism" 
of a royal governor, of Sir Edmund Andros, and for the moment jeremiads 
ceased. For three years New England was held up to standards not of its 
own making, to the requirements of an imperial administration which had 
nothing to do with any sort of covenant. For the moment, New England 


could hardly pretend that it was a peculiar people. But in April 1689, by 
revolution and violence, it overthrew Sir Edmund, broke up the "Domin- 
ion of New England," and setting up again the government of the charter 
(while awaiting news from Increase Mather, their agent in London), put 
itself once more under the dominion of the external covenant. 

As Cotton Mather tells it, "the compassion of God, by strange provi- 
dences, fetched the country out of that condition", whereupon the Gen- 
eral Court, "icturning to the exercise of their former authority," issued 
a proclamation advertising anew the ritualistic catalogue of corruptions, 
calling in the old tones for a backsliding people to recover themselves. 
Coming together to deal with the emergency, they first sat down to listen 
to Cotton Mather, filling m for his father, deliver a rousing jeremiad. 
Having suffered the intrusion of foreign tyranny and an alien ideology, 
having expelled the invader by an act of will, now resuming the direction 
of their own affairs, the Court found something infinitely reassuring 
what reestablished continuity with the past in a rehearsal of the com- 
fortable airay of defects, phrased out of their own experience and in the 
accustomed language of their own judgment. 



T TH: 

r HEN 

delivering jeremiads, a worried clergy were per- 
forming, under compulsions they only half understood, a ritual of con- 
fession. Hence these ceremonial discourses do provide, taken m sequence, 
a chronology of social evolution; in them everything the historian pieces 
together out of records and documents is faithfully mirrored. They tell 
the story, and tell it coherently, of a society which was founded by men 
dedicated, in unity and simplicity, to realizing on earth eternal and im- 
mutable principles and which progressively became involved with fish- 
ing, trade, and settlement. They constitute a chapter in the emergence 
of the capitalist mentality, showing how intelligence copes with or more 
cogently, how it fails to cope with a change it simultaneously desires 
and abhors. 

One remarkable fact emerges: while the ministers were excoriating 
the behavior of merchants, laborers, and frontiersmen, they never for 
a moment condemned merchandizing, laboring, or expansion of the fron- 
tier. They berated the consequences of progress, but never progress; de- 
plored the effects of trade upon religion, but did not ask men to desist 
from trading; arraigned men of great estates, but not estates. The tempo- 
ral welfare of a people, said Jonathan Mitchell in 1667, required safety, 
honesty, orthodoxy, and also "Prosperity in matters of outward Estate and 

In fact, in the ecstasy of denunciation, Jeremiahs enthusiastically in- 
dorsed those precepts of pious labor which from the beginning had been 
central in Calvinism. Merchants, farmers, and shipbuilders increased "cent 
per cent," and the consequence appeared to be a decay of godliness, class 
struggles, extravagant dress, and contempt for learning; New England 
seemed to be deserting the ideals of its founders, but preachers would have 
deserted them even more had they not also exhorted diligence in every 
calling precisely the virtue bound to increase estates, widen the gulf 
between rich and poor, and to make usury inevitable. 

That every man should have a calling and work hard in it was a first 
premise of Puritanism. The guidebook for earthly existence, William 
Ames's Conscience with the Power and Cases thereof, confirmed his au- 
thoritative summary of theology, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity } that 
even the man who has an income must work. Everyone has a talent for 


something, given of God, which he must improve. Although poverty is 
not a sin if it be suffered for causes outside one's control, for any to accept 
it voluntarily is utterly reprehensible. God has so contrived the world that 
men must seek the necessities of life in the earth or in the sea, but the 
objects of their search have been cunningly placed for the finding. Coming 
to his momentous decision, Wmthrop had reflected, "Whatsoever we 
stand in neede of is treasured in the earth by the Creator, & to be feched 
thense by the sweate of or Browes." Ames worked it out syllogistically: 
God is absolute lord of all things; hence private property is only a tempo- 
rary "dominion"; therefore the temporal possessor must enhance what is 
entrusted to him. Division of property "is founded, not onely on human, 
but also on naturall and divine right." The laborer is worthy of his hire, 
and fidelity in one's occupation, if performed in the fear of God, must 
lead to reward. Employing an estate so that it should become a larger 
estate was the inescapable injunction. Even in a jeremiad, William Adams 
remarked that while of course a believer must be crucified to the world, 
still he is not to be literally crucified: he "hath much business to do in & 
about the world which he is vigorously to attend, & he hath that in the 
world upon which he is to bestow affection*" Ames's teaching was re- 
peated in Samuel Willard's summa: "Man is made for Labour, and not 
for Idleness"; ergo, God has not given possessions to be held in common, 
"but hath appointed that every Man should have his Share in them, 
wherein he holds a proper Right in them, and they are his own and not 
anothers." This principle, Willard pointed out as did all Puritans has 
nothing to do with the spiritual condition; a right to property, exercised 
within civil propriety, is as valid for the pagan or idolater as foi the saint. 
Max Weber has taught us to call this configuration of ideas the "Protes- 
tant ethic." The finest exposition in New England literature occurs in 
John Cotton's volume of 1641, The Way of Life; his is the classic de- 
mand that men devote themselves to making profits without succumbing 
to the temptations of profit, that a believer be drawn by his belief into 
some warrantable calling, "though it be but of a day-laborer-" Here is 
the ringing and abiding conviction of the Puritan, for whom civil life no 
less than the religious is lived by faith: "If thou beest a man that lives 
without a calling, though thou hast two thousands to spend, yet if thou 
hast no calling, tending to publique good, thou art an uncleane beast." 

The peculiarly English note in Cotton's presentation is the strong em- 
phasis upon "publique good." The Puritan's thought was so far from any 
suggestion of individualism that his exhortation to money makers was, in 
his mind, not incompatible with enforcing the just price. Furthermore, 
every laborer must remember that even as his gifts were from God, op- 
portunities for employing them were opened by providence; the rewards of 
industry were not consequences of industriousness, nor of the state of the 
market or of rates of exchange. Knowing this, a saint in his counting house 
would patiently suffer loss as a trial of faith, but would also take good 


fortune "with moderation" and never be corrupted by success. No matter 
how much he outstripped his fathers in wealth, he would, by remaining an 
ascetic m the midst of prosperity, abide by their covenant especially by 
the external covenant, within which the management, for public good, of 
external possessions so largely fell. 

The Puritan mind, as we know, found allegory congenial. As Bunyan 
implores us, "Do thou the substance of my matter see, Put by the curtains 
. . . Turn up my metaphors." In 1657, twenty-one years before Pil- 
grim's Progress) one "N. D." published in London an allegory for which 
the curtains require less putting by; it was reprinted at Boston in 1683, 
and again as late as 1763. According to A Rich Treasure At an easy Rate: 
or> The ready Way to true Content, Poverty lives at one end of town with 
his wife Sloth, "m a sorry ruinous Cottage, which shortly after falls to 
the ground, and he is never able to repair it." At the other end dwells 
Riches, with his servants Pride, Oppression, Covetousness, Luxury, and 
Prodigality. Of his two sons, Honour died young, Ambition came to an 
untimely end; one daughter, Delicacy, has a bastard child Infamy, and 
the other, Avarice, gave birth to Misery. Into town comes Godliness, with 
a retinue of servants Humility, Sincerity, Repentance, Experience, Faith, 
Hope, Charity, Temperance, and Sobriety. He tries to live beside Riches, 
who insults him; he tries Poverty, who raises a hullabaloo by coming home 
drunk every night from the ale-house. Godliness is tempted to retreat to 
the cloister, and then being a Protestant bethinks himself, "Man was 
made for Society." Upon the advice of Gravity, he settles in the middle of 
town, halfway between Riches and Poverty, beside old Labour, the best 
housekeeper in the pansh, and his wife Prudence. We note remembering 
how Riches has been repudiated that Godliness proves a great help to 
Labour, assisted by Labour's attendants, Forecast, Diligence, Expedition, 
Cheerfulnes, and Perseverance, "early Risers and at their work." After 
Godliness teaches him to pray, Labour's estate increases, until Content 
comes to live with him, bringing in his train Justification, Adoption, As- 
surance, and Sanctijfication. At the end, Labour's happiness knows no 
bounds: "he had never prayed before, but now Godliness had thoroughly 
instructed him, and taught him a better Art, and the way of thriving." 

John Hull, the greatest Boston merchant of the mid-century and the 
legendary mintmaster, was no child of Riches; his father was a black- 
smith, and he himself had but little "keeping" at school ; he hoed corn for 
seven years, until "by God's good hand" he was apprenticed to a gold- 
smith. He joined with Godliness at the age of twenty-three, for the Lord 
made the ministry of John Cotton effectual unto him, whereby he found 
"room in the hearts of his people," being received in the fellowship of the 
First Church of Boston. Thereupon the economic virtues waited upon him ; 
he was an early riser and at his work, "and, through God's help, obtained 
that ability in it, as I was able to get my living by it." He kept his shop 
so well that shortly it kept him, yielding a surplus to invest in ships and 


land. But always, whether tradesman, merchant, or banker, he went in 
the fear of God. When the Dutch got his ships, he knew consolation: "The 
loss of my estate will be nothing, if the Lord please to join my soul nearer 
to himself, and loose it more fiom cieature comforts." However, when his 
foreman at Point Judith Neck stole his horses, a Puritan saint knew what 
to say. "1 would have you know that they are, by God's good providence, 

Hairs instructions to his ship-captains mingle piety and business with- 
out embarrassment; the Lord should be worshipped in his vessels, Sab- 
baths sanctified, and all profaneness suppressed. "That the lords prescence 
may be with you & his blessing upon you," he wrote, and added with the 
same pen, "Leave noe debts behind you whereever you goe." He told his 
skippeis to follow their judgment, knowing that businessmen must take 
their chances: "but indeed it is hard to foresee what will be & therefore 
it is best willing to submit to the great governing hand of the great Gov- 
ernor of all the greater and lesser revolutions that wee the poore sons of 
men are involved in by the invoyce you see the whole amounteth to 
405:16:3." There may be little punctuation, but every threepence is ac- 
counted for! Hull died worth over six thousand pounds, but would have 
been worth twice as much had he not supported the colony's treasury out 
of his own pocket. 

In his old age he declined a venture to the Canaries because he had 
become desirous only "to be more thoughtfull of Lanching into that vast 
ocion of Eternity whether we must all shortly bee Carried." Still, it would 
be .stretching the term to call him "otherworldly." To him, religion in- 
cluded seizing the main chance, snd sm was synonymous with wasted op- 
portunities. Into his shop he took two apprentices; one of them, Jeremiah 
Dummer, was a good boy (who became also a wealthy merchant and 
saint, and the father of well, not exactly a saint), but the other, Samuel 
Paddy, was a wastrel. In the heart of John Hull there was little meicy 
for the Paddys of this world ; after he had turned Paddy out of the house, 
he wrote him: "Had you abode here and followed your calling you might 
have been worth many hundred pounds of clear estate and you might have 
enjoyed many more helpes for your sole. Mr. Dummer lives in good 
fashion hath a wife and three children and like to be very useful in his 
generation." Was not life itself almost too transparent an allegory? 

In 1683 Samuel Willard preached Hull's funeral sermon, taken in con- 
junction with his jeremiad of the year before, it demonstrates how inno- 
cently praise of the merchant and denunciation of commercial sins flour- 
ished side by side. Hull "was a Saint upon Earth," and "lived like a Saint 
here, and died the precious Death of a Saint." But he was no Papist, and 
so did not flee into desert or cloister: he did live "above the World," and 
did keep "his heart disentangled," but meanwhile was "in the midst of all 
outward occasions and urgency of Business." Parson Willard saw noth- 
ing incongruous in advancing among Hull's claims to veneration, along 


with his being a magistrate, church member, father and benefactor, the 
fact "that Providence had given him a prosperous and Flourishing Por- 
tion of this Worlds Goods." 

Thanks to this spirit in the covenanted community there were possibly 
more Paddys than is generally imagined, but there were several Hulls 
and Dummers providence blessed New England with a flourishing por- 
tion of worldly goods. As Higginson said, on any rational calculation of 
the natural resources no one could have expected such success; it had been 
won despite reason (to the extent that all depended upon the favor of God), 
and yet in an eminently rational way, to the extent that the hard work of 
the saints, their leaving no debts behind, had served as "efficient cause." 
There were occasional bad years, upon which John Hull would moralize; 
he found in 1664, for instance, a smite upon all employments: "at least 
in general, all men are rather going backward than increasing their es- 
tates." Yet in that year he also noted that about one hundred sail of ships 
had come into Boston harbor, "and all laden hence." Laden ships meant 
profits for somebody. 

For the first ten years, Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut lived hap- 
pily off immigrants, who brought in foreign goods and specie, and so fur- 
nished a market for local produce. The New England Way, having been 
established during the "golden age" of 1630-1640 when the economic 
problem took care of itself, could never thereafter comprehend how eco- 
nomics might dilute religion. The golden age came abruptly to an end 
when the English Wars stopped immigration. Then New England found 
itself with little money and no markets; it had to have wares it could not 
manufacture, but it had little or nothing to peddle in England. Colonists 
had to find some way of converting their fish, lumber, wheat, flour, and 
livestock into English cloth and tools. For reasons best known to Himself, 
God had not laid before His saints the easy opportunity He gave Virgin- 
ians, who found at their doorsteps a crop marketable at five shillings the 
pound. New Englanders had to learn commerce or perish. 

They learned it. The "sacred cod" became a symbol second only, if 
that, to the Bible. "When the first way of supply began to be stopped up, 
God in his merciful providence opened another, by turning us into a way 
of Trade and Commerce, to further our more comfortable subsistence." 
But commerce is no half-time occupation. When a man spends all his 
waking hours amid as an almanac jingle had it "Heaps of wheat, pork, 
bisket, beef and beer; Masts, pipe-staves, fish, should store both far and 
near, which fetch in wines, cloths, sweets and good tobac," he will hardly 
have leisure for meditating upon the close distinction between works as a 
condition of the Covenant of Grace and the conception of works in the 
Arminian heresy. "Our Maritan Towns began to encrease roundly," the 
historian of 1650 could already say. The Resoration was a grievous set- 
back for Puritan orthodoxy, and John Hull was most depressed as he saw 
"the face of things looking sadly toward the letting-in of Popery." Yet 


economically he had no cause to complain, for the Navigation Acts and 
the exclusion of the Dutch offered merchants in New England a truly 
golden opportunity. Through the instrumentality of King Charles, master 
immoralist of the age, divine providence arranged compensation for the 
ravages of King Philip. 

Whenever preachers of jeremiads answered outside criticism, they put 
aside denunciation and resolutely boasted of how the people had demon- 
strated "that Necessity and Freedome could do wonders." Thus wealth 
did accumulate, which could not be anything but a sign of divine bless- 
ing. Men started as millers and were paid in grain; thus providentially 
invited to find buyers, they grew to be traders. Others staited as artisans, 
took apprentices, and shortly were capitalists. Merchants imported the 
necessary stocks, advanced them to farmers and frontiersmen on credit, 
and so became bankers who, in the name of honesty, cracked a whip over 
their debtors. Was John Hull grinding the faces of the poor when he wrote 
to a borrower, "I am afraid lest by keepeing a dnnkeing House you learn 
to tipple yor selfe and thereby stifle the voice of yor Conscience that else 
would call upon you to bee Righteouse me thinks some fruits might have 
come to mee last winter"? As soon as God made clear the market value 
of the cod, pious citizens, acting from both necessity and freedom, bought 
up the fishing fleet, and by the end of the century a few rich men dominated 
the industry. By then, New England merchants had taken hold of their 
opportunities with such diligence, expedition, and perseverance that they 
succeeded the Dutch as the principal competitors of merchants in London 
and Bristol; at the same time, they were steadily draining the back- 
country and Newfoundland of specie, bringing in cargoes from southern 
Europe, diverting the coinage of the Caribbean into their pockets, earning 
freight-charges on everything they handled, and then to cap the climax 
selling their very ships at immense profit! 

Statesmen who led the migration of 1630 lost so much that if their 
estates, at their deaths, were a thousand pounds, God had been merciful. 
But merchant Robert Keayne, even though prevented by theological fiat 
from charging all he could, left 4,000 in 1656. John Holland, by fitting 
vessels for the cod-fisheries, had that much by 1653. Though Increase 
Mather cried that land had become an idol, many church members were 
accumulating titles. By 1670 there were said to be thirty merchants in 
Boston worth from ten to thirty thousand pounds. By the end of the cen- 
tury the great names were not only Winthrop, Dudley, and Mather, but 
also Lillie, Faneuil, Belcher, Foster, Phillips, Wharton, Clarke, Oliver, 
Sargent and Hutchinson. "In the Chief, or high Street," said Ned Ward, 
"there are stately Edifices, some of which cost the owners two or three 
Thousand Pounds," He thought that these illustrated the adage of a fool 
and his money being soon parted, "for the Fathers of these Men were 
Tinkers and Peddlers," but he did not comprehend Puritan ethics. Few 
built bigger houses than they could afford; Prudence was still their wife. 


But that the fathers of many had been tinkers and peddlers was well 
enough known. 

An intellectual historian must detect the workings of change, but no 
preternatural astuteness is required to decipher the trend when Joshua 
Moodey in 1685 declared that salvation yields a hundied per cent clear gain 
and that therefore "It is rational that Men should lay out their Money 
where they may have the most suitable Commodities and best Penny- 
worths." Samuel Willard's Heavenly Merchandise in 1686 was exactly 
what the title indicates. Hooker and Shepard often took their illustrations 
from industry and business in meditation, said Hooker, a man beats his 
brains "as the Gouldsmith with his mettal." However, their metaphois 
did not control their content. (As Jonathan Edwards was later to say, 
truly spiritual rhetoric mentions these things as illustrations and evidence 
of the truth of what the preacher says, not of his meaning ) But m Wil- 
lard's sermon the merchandising metaphor governs the thought; the nu- 
thor never steps out of it: "A prudent buyer will see his wares, & try 
them before he will buy them." That men naturally try to haggle with 
God over the terms of salvation is thus conveyed: "He that really intends 
to buy, will first cheapen; every one hath such a principle, that he could 
buy at the best rates; to have a thing good, and have it cheap, is most 
mens ambition." Willard concluded that Christ was a good buy, and 
that those who can purchase had better pay the price. 

Thus we are again confronted with the question of why New England 
in the second half of the century expressed itself most comprehensively in 
stylized self-denunciation. Why did spokesmen for a people who triumphed 
over forest and sea, who were piling up sterling and building more stately 
mansions on the high street spokesmen proud of these achievements 
call upon their people to abase themselves before the Lord as guilty of the 
Synod's twelve offenses? Why did they fill their diaries with self-con- 
demnation? Why did a John Hull or a Samuel Sewall accuse himself, 
even while hastening along the road to wealth? Why, when they assem- 
bled together, did they hunger and thirst after a methodical analysis of 
their imperfection? 

Had the jeremiads been directed only at those outside the churches, expla- 
nation would be easy. Occasionally we do find an offender galled by his 
exclusion from the corporation of the saints; modern sympathies instinc- 
tively go out to one Peter Bussaker, who in 1648 was whipped in Con- 
necticut because he profanely announced "that hee hoped to mcete some 
of the members of the Church in hell err long and hee did not question 
but he should." In 1673 Increase Mather intimated that non-members 
took delight in luring church members into taverns and getting them 
drunk, and in 1682 Urian Oakes let slip the admission that there were 
New Englanders weary of "theocracy." (This is one of the few usages 
of the term in the century, but Oakes was reduced to employing it, as we 
shall see, for political reasons.) In 1691 Joshua Scottow tried to tell him- 


self that most of the enormities were committed by that mixed multitude 
who had not come with the saints. 

All such excuses were m vain. The Magndla y with disarming honesty, 
confesses that the real issue was the prodigious and astonishing scandals 
of those "that have made a more than ordinary profession of religion." 
The heart of the pioblem was the riddle of Protestant theology: "Why 
mayn't I, as well as David?" David sinned, to put it mildly, but never- 
theless went to heaven; in the external covenant his example was more 
difficult to discount than in the internal. "Perhaps m his fall, and not m 
his rise again, David has been sometimes too much followed by some 
eminent professors of religion m this land; and the land has been filled 
with temptation by so venomous a mischief." No, the declension of New 
England was not entirely the fault of the vulgar, it was defection among 
the children of the covenant. 

Whereupon a second hypothesis suggests itself: did anybody really be- 
lieve in the declension? Was there a confession of smfulness on Sunday, 
followed on Monday by the foreclosing of a mortgage? The modern tem- 
per finds this explanation plausible, and delights to quote, out of the Mag- 
nalia > the fishermen of Marblehead who announced that they came to 
America not for religion but for fish. But the problem for our culture is 
that the weight of the dilemma was felt not by such care-free fishermen, 
but by orthodox leaders of the community. The mixture of business and 
piety in Hull's instructions, though to us it seems quaint, is far from a 
keeping of the left hand m ignorance of the right; the jeremiads came 
from something deeper than pious fraud, more profound than cant: they 
were the voice of a community bespeaking its apprehensions about itself. 

The cultural and intellectual problem becomes more complex when we 
ask whether there really was so awful a deterioration. Comparing the 
Synod's indictment with the recorded facts, Thomas Hutchinson, judging 
by the standards of an eighteenth-century gentleman, said "we have no 
evidence of any extraordinary degeneracy." We have heard Cotton Mather 
admit that the situation was not always so bad as painted. One can indeed 
cull from the records of the county courts an amusing array of thefts, 
bastardy, incest, and sheer filthiness, but the mass of the people, whether 
church members or inhabitants, were hard at work, clearing the land, 
attending sermons (and taking notes), searching their souls, praying for 
grace, and humbling themselves for their unworthmess. Above all, fol- 
lowing the injunction to increase and multiply, they were begetting chil- 
dren, between-times garnenng the rewards, in material recompense, of 
pious industry. No doubt, Hutchinson was basically correct. 

But if, as we measure facts, New England was not declining, it was 
certainly changing. The orthodox colonies were originally medieval states, 
based upon a fixed will of God, dedicated to the explicitly just, good, and 
honest. Men were arranged in hierarchical ranks, the lower obedient to the 
upper, with magistrates and scholars at the top. Things were right or 


wrong intrinsically, not relatively, so that the price of a piece of cloth 
could be determined by theologians. It shall be lawful, said Cotton, for 
the judges in any town, with the consent of the town officers, to set "rea- 
sonable rates" upon commodities; at the end of the century, Willard was 
still contending for such "Equity," declaring that employeis may not take 
advantage of the laborer "and beat him down so as to enjoy his Labour 
underfoot, for that which is next to nothing." Gradation in costume ac- 
cording to rank was the visible sign of a social philosophy based upon the 
law of nature and further sanctioned by revelation. "One end of Apparel 
is to distinguish and put a difference between peisons according to the 
Places and Conditions." The code resisted change, and therefore changes 
became declensions; the jeremiads recognized the facts, but refused to 
accommodate theory to them. 

William Hubbard's sermon of 1676, The Easiness of a Peofle, is a 
most interesting memorial to this internal conflict, not only for its elo- 
quence but also for the fact that its author was not in full sympathy with 
those determined at all costs to make a stand for the charter. On every 
page, Hubbard betrays his awareness of the changing conditions, and so 
pleads the more fervently for "unity" and "order." The Creator made 
the universe of differing parts, "which necessarily supposes that there must 
be differing places, for those differing things to be disposed into, which 
is Order." Especially must this "artificial distribution" be observed in a 
political structure, and "whoever is for a parity in any Society, will in the 
issue reduce things into an heap of confusion." Just as the angels in heaven 
are not all of one rank, and in "the pavement of that glorious mansion 
place," we shall see one star differ from another in glory, as the eagle 
surmounts "the little choristers of the valleys," so "it is not then the re- 
sult of time or chance, that some are mounted on horse-back, while others 
are left to travell on foot." The Lord appoints her "that sits behind the 
mill" and "him that ruleth on the throne." The greater portion of man- 
kind are but "tools and instruments for others to work by" rather than 
"proper agents to effect any thing of themselves"; left to themselves, they 
"would destroy themselves by slothfulness and security" were they not 
driven and supervised by their betters. Nothing is more remote from right 
reason, Hubbard continued contending with peculiar vehemence against 
that stubborn egalitarianism which is seldom entirely banished from Chris- 
tian piety "than to think that because we were all once equal at our 
birth, and shall be again at our death, therefore we should be so in the 
whole course of our lives." Of course, Hubbard delivered this sermon 
when the war with Philip was still going badly, and it may be read as a 
covert expression of dissatisfaction with the administration. In any event, 
he asserted the principle of subordination as resolutely as Winthrop and 
Cotton. "In fine," he concluded, "a body would not be more monstrous 
and deformed without an Head, nor a ship more dangerous at Sea without 
a Pilot, nor a flock of sheep more ready to be devoured without a Shep- 


heard, than would humane Society be without an Head, and Leader in 
time of danger." 

If, as I believe, Hubbard spoke for the band of merchants who had 
already decided that repeal of the charter was inevitable, it is all the more 
remarkable that he should invoke the hierarchical conception of society. 
By this ideal all preachers whatever their sentiments concerning the 
charter were bound to judge the soaety. The jeremiads therefore testify 
to a grief that was not merely distress over a failure of reality to conform 
to theory, but unhappiness about theory itself. Class lines drawn upon 
the basSis of inherited status might have a semblance of eternal order. When 
new families, such as the Brattles or the Whartons, forged ahead and then 
availed themselves of the philosophy of social subordination, the metaphysi- 
cal dilemma became acute. In vain Samuel Willard reminded the new 
generation of merchants that civil deference ought to be paid to gentle- 
men, "tho j the Providence of God bring them into Poverty." Cotton 
Mather could only shake his head: "If some that are now rich were once 
low in the world, 'tis possible, more that were once rich are now brought 
very low," 

Nor did a family have to rise to the very top of the scale, like the Brattles, 
in order to upset the hierarchy. It was enough, for instance, if a Robert 
Turner, admitted as an indentured servant to the church of Boston in 1632, 
should become master of a tavern, "The Sign of the Anchor," and die in 
1664 with an estate of 1,600. Or if a John Kitchin, starting as the serv- 
ant of Zachery Bicknell, should have a grandson Edward, who in Salern 
became the equal of Endecotts and Crowninshields. Samuel Shrimpton set 
up as a brazier, but at his death in 1698 he owned most of Beacon Hill 
and was inventoried at 1,800. John Harrison bargained for a monopoly 
of rope-making in Boston, out of which he built a great house on Purchase 
Street. Thomas Savage, son of an English blacksmith, began as a tailor, 
erected wharves on Fleet Street, and ended worth 2,500. The social 
structure refused to stay fixed, and classifications decreed by God Himself 
dissolved. Pious industry wrecked the city on a hil], in which it had been 
assumed men would remain forever in the stations to which they were 
born, and inferiors would eternally bow to gentlemen and scholars. 

Had economic development merely recruited a few additions from the 
commercial classes to the Puritan oligarchy, the ideal would not have been 
endangered, but it played havoc not only by making some rich but by 
reducing many to poverty. John Josselyn observed in 1675 that while 
diligent hands had prospered, those of a "droanish disposition" became 
wretchedly poor. If there were Shrimptons and Savages, there was also 
Thomas Turvill of Newbury, whose entire estate consisted of: "An old 
worne out coat and britches with an old lining 6s Od- t A thread bare, 
tho indifferent close coat and doublet with an old wast coat, 1:00:00; 
Two shirts and a band, Ih; a pair of shoes, 4j; An old greasy hatt, 6d, 
a pair of stockings, lj; An old doublet, an old wast cote and a pair of old 


sheep skin briches, 0'04:00." There had been a moment when it seemqd 
possible that in New England the poor would not always be with us, by 
1700 they were numerous. Had the process brought down only drones, 
it could have been admired: the problem was that it worked hardship 
upon yeomen farmers of virtue and industry, whose estates at most never 
got beyond two or three hundred pounds. They found themselves paying 
tnbute to merchants, millers, and shipbuilders. After their little store of 
cash had flowed into Boston coffers, they went into debt for imported 
goods, and even then, since they had to pay with produce, received only 
the first cost. In rural districts trading was reduced to a commodity basis, 
wherein what was called "country pay" figured pnces at a higher rate 
than the goods would fetch in sterling; but all this while, merchants tried 
to collect their debts at the hard money rate. 

As the lines became more sharply drawn, even the upper class of in- 
herited position, the sons and daughters of Winthrops, Nortons, Dudleys, 
Saltonstalls, Bradstreets, became less the dedicated leaders of a religious 
movement and more a closed corporation of monopolists. They married 
among themselves Winthrops with Bradstreets, Dudleys with Saltonstalls 
while the ministerial families also intermarried so extensively as to be- 
come within three generations a distinct caste, which Dr. Holmes was later 
to call, not quite realizing the full implications, "Brahmin." The church, 
it must be said, still did offer an avenue of escape for abler youths of the 
lower orders, to such as John Wise, son of an indentured servant, or 
Thomas Barnard, son of a maltster in Hartford; but the exceptions were 
few, and by 1700 the clergy no less than the merchants were a vested 
interest which was not what the founders had envisaged. 

New men of wealth came up by a different ladder from that by which 
Winthrops and Saltonstalls had ascended, and showed the effects of their 
training. Even in 1650 Edward Johnson was horrified to discover that 
merchants and vintners "would willingly have had the Commonwealth 
tolerate divers kinds of sinful opinions" because they wanted more immi- 
grants "that their purses might be filled with coyne." Thirty years later 
merchants were the most ready of any group to surrender the charter, but 
whether loyal or disloyal, they and the tradesmen either would not or 
could not abide by the regulations. Laws fixing wages and prices, pre- 
scribing the amounts to be spent on dress and luxury, became dead letters: 
"Those good orders were not of long continuance, but did expire with 
the first and golden age in this new world," In 1639 to seek a profit 
"above 33 per cent" had been to invite condign punishment, but "since 
that time the common practice of the country hath made double that ad- 
vance no sin." The records show little prosecution under the sumptuary 
legislation after about 1675; John Dunton seems again to have spoken 
truth: "The Laws for Reformation of Manners are very severe, yet but 
little regarded by the People, so at least as to make 'em better, or cause 
'em to mend their manners." Increase Mather had denounced cards and 


dice in 1674 because, by the original philosophy, "If a man get anothers 
Goods at under price, this is Injustice, it is Theft, and a Transgression 
of the Rule of Righteousness." Subsequent jeremiads had to face the fact 
that not only did cards and dice abound, but that the economic philosophy 
by which Mather had condemned them became an embarrassment when 
employed by farmers to make Mather's merchant parishioners pay for 
produce at the country rate. At every point, economic life set up conflicts 
with ideology. It was defeat for the plan of New England that frontier 
towns should be settled without a ministry and a school, but, said Cotton 
Mather in 1690, the insoluble problem was how "at once we may Ad- 
vance our Husbandry, and yet Forbear our Dispersion; and moreover at 
the same time fill the Countrey with a Liberal Education." 

The husbandmen and traders were doing nothing but what they had 
been told to do. They worked in their callings and brought multiplicity 
out of unity. There were perceptibly "more divisions in times of pros- 
perity than in times of adversity, and when Satan cant destroy them by 
outward violence he will endeavour to undo them by Strife and variance." 
Saints waited upon God for the reward and became social climbers. The 
more everybody labored, the more society was transformed. The more 
diligently the people applied themselves on the frontier, in the meadows, 
in the countinghouse or on the Banks of Newfoundland the more they 
produced a decay of religion and a corruption of morals, a society they 
did not want, one that seemed less and less attractive. From the beginning, 
the city on a hill was to have social classes, but status ordained by God 
should not become the prize of competition; the jeremiad could not arrest 
the process in which names rose and fell, but by grieving over the incom- 
prehensible it provided a method of endurance. 

Hence we may see in the sermons more than ministerial nagging of 
worldlings, more than hypocritical show, more than rhetoric. They were 
releases from a grief and a sickness of soul which otherwise found 110 sur- 
cease. They were professions of a society that knew it was doing wrong, 
but could not help itself, because the wrong thing was also the right thing. 
From such ceremonies men arose with new strength and courage: having 
acknowledged what was amiss, the populace could go back to their fields 
and benches and ships, trusting that a covenanted Jehovah would remem- 
ber His bond. When again they grew apprehensive, they could look into 
their own hearts, find what was festering there, and hasten once more to 
cleanse their bosoms of poisonous stuff by public confession. Although 
jeremiads and the Reforming Synod called for an alteration of social 
habits, the result was only more days of humiliation. Knowing their impp- 
tence, the people needed a method for paying tribute to their sense of guilt 
and yet for moving with the times. Realizing that they had betrayed their 
fathers, and were still betraying them, they paid the requisite homage in a 
ritual of humiliation, and by confessing iniquities regained at least a por- 
tion of self-respect. 


A literary form does not come into flower unless it answers some deep 
necessity of the time and the place. As drama was the ideal articulation of 
Elizabethan London, the jeremiad was for the tmy communities of New 
England. The form suited their needs, on the one hand satisfying a pas- 
sionate desire to remain faithful to the Puritan inheritance and on the other 
inculcating the ethic which was steadily undermining that heritage. Devo- 
tion to business, accumulation of estates, acquisition of houses and lands, 
these were the duties of Christians. What they gained of elegance or lux- 
ury was the just reward of blessed diligence, yet business and riches meant 
devotion to the world, and luxury meant pride. The sins paraded in the 
sermons were not so much those of the notoriously scandalous but such as 
were bound to increase among good men. They thus had to be all the 
more vigorously condemned because they were incurable: after proper 
obeisance to the past, the society was better prepared to march into its 



T TH: 


John Wmthrop committed Massachusetts Bay to 
the external covenant, he was not troubled because a majority, as many 
as four-fifths, were not saints, even "unto visibility." In all Protestant 
theology, there was a realm of conduct over which purely "natural" con- 
siderations held sway. The flight of every sparrow, let alone every motion 
of man, was governed by providence; nevertheless, in politics and public 
morality, laws were enforced and penalties exacted on the assumption that 
ordinary men are responsible for such things as fornication, debt, and mur- 

A nation in the federal covenant differed from the uncovenanted, not 
because all citizens were holy, but because therein saints administered the 
laws according to the covenant. Since a national covenant ran no further 
than outward rectitude, and since natural inhabitants could be incited (or 
compelled) to obey, the saints did not need to be a majority if only they 
held the power. The covenant came into being as a consequence of their 
internal pledge; the others were merely carried along; to keep the cove- 
nant alive, a core of saints was necessary, but a saving remnant was enough. 

Had the founders been uncomplicated Calvinists like the Scotch-Irish Pres- 
byterians, the intellectual history of American Puritanism could be briefly 
told. But by retaining the scholastic liberal arts, and then by rephrasing 
Calvinism in the language of the several covenants, New Englanders man- 
aged to bring to the wilderness a complex system (which they innocently 
supposed was simple). As jeremiads multiplied, the complaint mounted 
that sound conversions were few, and even of these, many were of so 
insipid a sanctity as to cause doubts of their authenticity. Bit by bit preach- 
ers raised a suspicion that the remnant might have become too small any 
longer to save. It became increasingly imperative, therefore, that prophets 
urge upon the unconverted no less than upon the converted the necessity 
of doing something. Since the national covenant demanded an effort by 
all, mere natural ability gradually was deemed adequate (if commanded 
by a few saints) for outward compliance. A whole town or colony re- 
corded their vow of reformation on a day of humiliation, but the gesture 
would remain empty unless everyone did have a power to keep his prom- 
ise without first having to undergo the elusive rite of regeneration. 

The task might well seem hopeless. Although in their academic physics 


Puritans analyzed man into Peripatetic faculties, treating reason and will as 
"powers," they were nevertheless determimsts. Masters of their thinking, 
like William Perkins, said that anyone who seeks in men the cause of pre- 
destination, as though God chose them only upon foresight of their ability, 
is a Pelagian. The chief architect of the federal theology, William Ames, 
agreed that God's determination could not be founded upon foreknowl- 
edge; John Preston established out of the Covenant of Grace that men 
are justly condemned for not doing what they can do, but he also declared, 
"God hath kept it in his power to draw whom he will, to sanctifie whom 
he will." "It is not," he added, "in any mans power to beleeve, to repent 
effectually." The offer of the Covenant was genuine, therefore if a man 
decried it because he could not accept it without grace and called it a 
"gifteless gift," he was perverse and unthankful. 

New England theologians echoed their teachers. Cotton said that God 
could and does pour His grace upon the most abominable sinner , nothing 
can hinder Him. Thomas Hooker seemed no more helpful: the darkness 
in man is unalterably opposed to the light that is in God, and "Thou canst 
resist a Saviour, but not entertaine him, doe what thou canst." While 
calling upon the nation to reform, the Synod of 1679 also demanded 
renewed allegiance to The Westminster Confession) which declared, "God 
from all eternity did by the most wise and holy Counsel of his own Will, 
freely and unchangeably ordame whatsoever comes to pass," and that there- 
fore until grace visits the natural spirit, it must be wholly "passive." With 
what right, then, could divines press upon ordinary men the obligation 
of an external covenant? Were they not impotent? If men may sit all 
their lives as obtuse as the walls and pillars to which Unan Oakes declaimed 
as Samuel Willard later testified, "woful experience tells us that there 
are a great many that do so" with what face could ministers blame sin- 
ful people for afflictions, or treat sin as avoidable? 

The fundamental problem of life for English Puritans was not social, 
it was salvation of the soul, out of which would flow a purification of the 
church and a regeneration of the state. Perhaps precisely because the con- 
cern with polity and politics was a consequential rather than a primary 
issue, Puritans devoted their energies to reform and revolution. Or perhaps 
it is more accurate to say that the energy was there, to be utilized in sub- 
sidiary matters. Exactly because public moiality would not contribute to 
election, the founders were the more ready to let compulsion rule. Yet, 
on the other hand, Puritanism called for exertion; jfceachers, for example, 
cultivated the plain style because they must be understood and so work 
an effect. The sense of solidarity exemplified in the town system owes 
much to centuries of English communal life, and is not to be attributed 
solely to the creed, but for that very reason reveals the inarticulate premise 
of this creed. When Puritans preached that man was made for society, 
they were not combating individualism, but recognizing what was and 
always had been the order of things. 


In the line of covenant theologians we can trace the growth of an idea, 
at first no more than a manner of speaking, which discloses their aware- 
ness that the doctrine of absolute predestination had to be worked out in 
a social context. They early began to speak about a stage of "preparation," 
a period m time when a saint, working at his calling and listening to ser- 
mons, would suffer preliminary motions which sooner or later would even- 
tuate in conversion. It would consist mainly in secret meditation and per- 
turbation, but would require conversation with others, with a man named 
Evangelist to ask "Wherefore dost thou cry?" If the pilgrimage from 
then on was largely solitary, the point at which the scheme of salvation and 
the institutions of society came closest together would actually be this mo- 
ment of preparation. 

By urging the people to rededicate themselves to the Confession, the 
Synod was asking them to recollect that natural man has lost ability to 
will spiritual good, that he "is not able by his own strength to convert him- 
self, or to prepare himself thereunto." But the Confession was written by 
Presbyterian Calvimsts, not quite sophisticated enough to grasp the subtleties 
of the Covenant. Formulators of the federal theology were indeed Cal- 
vmists; in casting their thought in the terminology of a covenant they 
were only using a metaphor. Nevertheless, by putting the relationship 
between God and man into contractual terms, they found themselves 
blessed with the corollary that the terms could be known in advance. If 
a Sovereign proposes conditions, there must be a moment in time, however 
infinitesimal, between absolute depravity and concluding the bond. If 
election be a flash of lightning which strikes without warning, men cannot 
place themselves m its path, nor cultivate anticipatory attitudes, but when 
it comes as a chance to take up a contract, they must first of all learn what 
is to be contracted. By treating with men through negotiation, the Al- 
mighty seeks "that we might know what to expect from God, and upon 
what termes." A phenomenon of Calvinism everywhere in the century was 
a tendency to analyze the process of regeneration into a series of moments, 
but that strain which invented the federal theology was impelled, by the 
nature of the metaphor, to set off an initial period wherein he who is about 
to believe begins to learn what to expect. 

In William Perkins, the widely studied (by Puritans) theologian who 
first definitely propounded the federal conception, preparation is little more 
than a conventional admonition that preachers spare no pains: "This prepa- 
ration is to bee made partly by disputing or reasoning with them, that thou 
mayest thorowly discerne their manners and disposition, and partly by 
reproving m them some notorious sinne, that being pricked in heart and 
terrified, they may become teachable." In the 1620's John Preston said 
that the worst of sinners may sometimes be summoned without any antece- 
dent humbling of the heart, just as a sick man does not need a sense of 
sickness in order to be cured, but notwithstanding, "if he be not sick, and 
have a sense of it, he will not come to the Physitian." This coming will 


not of itself work the cure, but it may be "a preparative sorrow." It is not 
to be confused with faith , the reprobate may attain it, "It hath his ongmall 
from nature." Yet by 1630, the particulanzation of a stage of behavior 
which is not the work of the spirit but may well lead to it, which is within 
the compass of natural men, had become familiar. 

It was not it never did become what one might call a doctrine. But 
as a descriptive term it came into increasing prominence in federal elo- 
quence, because theologians of the covenant were most obliged to distin- 
guish and divide the temporal sequences of regeneration. They had a 
devotion to dissecting the psychology of conversion so intense that it 
recalls St. Bernard} just as he took delight in rhetorically tracing the 
twelve steps of humility and the three stages of truth, they luxuriated 
the word is not too strong in fine discriminations of preparation from 
humiliation, of vocation from implantation, and all these from exaltation. 
Loyalty to the root principle of Protestantism required them to preach 
salvation by faith, all the more was a state of preparation not being a 
saving act, nor a meritorious work, but a preliminary rumble before the 
storm a useful gambit for men named Evangelist. Had the mechanism of 
regeneration been phrased exclusively in the blunt language of Calvin, 
as a forcible seizure, a rape of the surprised will, there would have been 
no place for a time of preparation when the saint would say with Thomas 
Shepard, "Although I was troubled for this sin I did not know my smfull 
nature all this while." Regeneration through covenant meant that men 
could make themselves ready, at least by studying the nature of covenants. 
Though God might do as He pleased with His own, it was a matter of 
empirical observation, the Synod of 1637 told Hutchinsomans, "In the 
ordinary constant course of his dispensation, the more wee in devour, the 
more assistance and help wee find from him." So the clergy organized 
their astute analyses of "indevour," and composed discourses upon prepa- 

They found at once that the conception had social bearings. A man 
undergoing a work of preparation, in the hope it may be followed by the 
successive works, will endeavor to perfect external behavior. He may finally 
go to hell, but if in this world he lives by endeavor, he automatically fulfills 
the national terms. As Puritans perforce became more concerned with 
power than with purity, they labored to make the moral incentive of the 
national covenant do what the founders had gratuitously assumed would 
be done by regulation, fines, and the stocks. What for Wmthrop had been 
in the background, the inarticulate premise of solidarity and subordination, 
for the second generation became the foregiound. how to arrest a splinter- 
ing of society into groups and compering interests. All men could be called 
upon to prepare themselves, and so to exert themselves toward exactly that 
obedience required by the nation's covenant, which then would ward off 
tempests and plagues, which would through the engine of the jeremiad 
redress the evils of inordinate dress and tavern-haunting. 


Thomas Hooker, dictator of Connecticut, one of the most socially 
minded of the clerics, was also the greatest psychologist. His consummate 
probings of these preliminary motions, in The Soules Preparation for Christ 
(London, 1632) and The Unbeleevers Preparing for Christ (1638), 
were intensified by Thomas Shepard and Peter Bulkeley these three be- 
ing, significantly, the most vindictive prosecutors of Mistress Hutchmson. 
All three scrupulously maintained that "Natural and corrupt actions can- 
not prepare immediately for Supernatural Grace." Sorrow in preparation is 
a work wrought upon us; calling election a covenant does not infringe 
this principle, Bulkeley explained, because "first the Lord doth dispose us 
and fit us to a walking in Covenant with him, by putting into us his own 
spirit." The Puritan Jehovah was unconfined, nor did His favor follow 
upon any virtue in man; no, said Hooker, in a characteristic image, "it 
hangs not upon that hinge." 

What, then, did Hooker and his disciples gain by their elaborate study 
of preparation? They established what to the Puritan mind was all-essen- 
tial: there is an "order" in God's proceedings. Hooker marked off chrono- 
logical phases, demonstrated the factual existence of a probationary period, 
in order to prove that regeneration was not a precipitate or instantaneous 
frenzy with disruptive social consequences' As soon as he could show 
that God first takes away the resistance of the soul by an irresistible opera- 
tion, whereby the soul "comes to be in the next passive power," and is dis- 
posed to a spiritual work "vult mover?* Hooker could then persuade 
his people that "this consent is not from ourselves, though not without our- 
selves." The last was precisely the effective clause. 

If all this seems at first sight abstract, it had practical bearings, for 
preparation is the hidden issue in the Antinomian crisis of 1637. Because it 
was not a consolidated doctrine, like the Trinity or perseverance, but only 
a manner of speaking, it figures deceptively as an incidental term in the 
technical disputations; yet all the argument with Mrs. Hutchinson boils 
down to her denial that such a phase of conversion exists. Because she was 
smashed, the New England mind was thenceforth committed to it irrevo- 

New England's determination to hold it at all costs was strengthened by 
attacks emanating from England. William Pemble, for instance, was a 
federalist, but Hooker's line smelled to him of sophistical Armimanism; 
the amount of ability which Hooker attributed to preparation, said Pemble, 
could be performed by the unregenerate, and instead of elevating natural 
abilities, he was cheapening grace. "They are not antecedents, but con- 
sequents and parts of true conversion"; preparatory gestures of the sort 
unassisted faculties might enact are "no efficient causes to produce grace of 
conversion." As late as 1670 Giles Firmin was denouncing Hooker and 
Shepard for polluting doctrine and causing seekers unnecessary anguish 
by casting distrust upon the first true motions of the Spirit. In their effort 
to entice men into action, said Firmin, these New Englanders demand 


more of men than God requires, calling upon them not to repent but to go 
beyond repentance, whereas the battle should be considered won as soon 
as men can lament their sins. 

Most of the New England leaders followed Hooker with one ominous 
exception: John Cotton. By virtue of his post as "Teacher" of the First 
Church in Boston it was held open for him until he could get away in 
1633 he was a sort of dean of the sacred college. (I am convinced that 
Hooker left for Connecticut because Massachusetts was not big enough 
to hold him and Cotton.) In the 1640's he became the best-known 
expositor of the New England Way, so that he is conventionally remem- 
bered as the chief "theocrat," though this estimate forgets that the in- 
fluence of Hooker and Shepard upon the living thought of New England 
was infinitely greater than his, that Edwards renewed the vitality of their 
tradition rather than Cotton's, and that in 1637 Cotton came so close to 
disaster that he lived thereafter on sufferance. 

The full story cannot be reconstructed because most of it was deliberately 
concealed. But the theological ears of a heresy-hunter like Robert Baillie 
were acute enough to catch the overtones in the muffled syllables that 
reached England in the form of Wmthrop's account, A Short Story, 
brought out in London by Welde in 1644. This did, said Baillie, all it 
could "to save Mr. Cottons credit," but so inexpertly that it let "the truth 
of Mr. Cottons Seduction fall from their Pens." The halting sentences with 
which Cotton endeavored (eleven years after his ordeal) to answer Baillie, 
in The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared (1648), are confirma- 
tions of his utter defeat upon the issue of preparation. 

Cotton was the pure scholar who sweetened his mouth every night with 
a morsel of Calvin, he was caught among idealogues, beaten down by 
practical men who could show to his sorrow that disinterested scholar- 
ship played into the hands of subversive radicals. He believed it obvious 
that the gulf between nature and grace is absolute: "A man is passive in 
his Regeneration, as in his first generation." Only when the spirit has 
burned up, "root and branch," our legal righteousness are we "fit for any 
duty." There might be something called a "saving preparation," but as 
Pemble had said, this was not an antecedent but a consequence, and "for 
our first union, thuere are no steps to the Altar." "Drowsie hearts" do not 
open upon the knocking of Christ "unlesse he be pleased to put the finger 
of his spirit into our hearts, to open an entrance for himselfe." A blind 
man cannot prepare to see, and the supreme refinement of false faith is the 
self-induced resolution to stand ready: "Here is still the old roote of Adam 
left alive in us, whereby men seeke to establish their own righteousnesse." 

In Hartford, Calvinism was more realistic- "Know therefore, that de- 
sires and love are of a double nature," that some are observed in prepara- 
tion and others in sanctifi cation. With Hooker's empirical temper poor 
Cotton could never grapple. "Looke by what right and reason many 
judicious Divines of late yeares," said Hooker, "having by experience ob- 


served it in their owne spirits, and judiciously scanned and delivered it, 
that there is a saving desire, by which God brings in and breeds faith in 
the soule." Listening to this doctrine, and comparing it with Cotton's 
uncompromising separation of faith from works, Anne Hutchinson decided 
that Cotton alone was preaching the authentic Covenant of Grace, and 
so rent the society apart by accusing all others of purveying a Covenant 
of Works. 

Certain historians, distrusting the intellect, like to quote Wmthrop's pas- 
sage that once emotions ran high, nobody could understand what the 
dispute was about; actually, the line of division was clear: Mrs. Hutchin- 
son made it so when she said that she came to New England "but for 
Mr. Cotton's sake," and "as for Mr. Hooker ... she liked not his spirit," 
Out of Cotton's radical disjunction between nature and grace she derived 
her assertion that no works could have anything to do with justification, 
that they could not be offered as "evidence," that a true saint might con- 
sistently live in sin, and finally -what destroyed her that saints could 
receive direct revelations from the Holy Ghost. All of these theses amounted 
to one thing: a denial of preparation. The rock upon which the Antmo- 
mians stood was this: a man, "for his part, must see nothing in himself e, 
have nothing, doe nothing, onely he is to stand still and waite for Christ 
to doe all for him." It was wrong to call the elect to their duty, because 
those concerned about conduct arc under the Covenant of Works. Elec- 
tion admits of no degrees; justification is absolute, in and of itself. 

Upon sentencing her to banishment, the General Court of November 
1637 said that Mrs. Hutchinson's teachings "tend to slothfulnesse, and 
quench all indevour in the creature." All this while, until the bitter end, 
she wrapped herself in the mantle of John Cotton, protesting that she had 
merely repeated his sermons. Thus Cotton had to be dealt with, for a 
party in power cannot allow its high priest to deviate either to left or 
to right. The elders brought Cotton to a conference, "drew out sixteen 
points, and gave them to him, entreating him to deliver his judgment 
directly in them." Winthrop concedes that copies of his reply "were dis- 
persed about"; seven years later, Francis Cornwell published in London 
Stxteene Questions of Serious and Necessary Consequence, which purported 
to be a verbatim report; the book was dedicated to Sir Harry Vane, that 
friend of Mrs. Hutchinson being by then a power in the land. It was so 
popular among "sectaries" that two more editions, under other titles, came 
out in 1646 and a fourth in 1647 to the chagrin of Massachusetts. 
Winthrop tried to protect Cotton, as is evidenced not only by his Journal 
but by his high-handed action as presiding officer in the trial of Mrs. 
Hutchinson. Yet even he has to say that though at this conference Cotton 
cleared many doubts, "in some things he gave not satsf action." In Corn- 
well's version he gave none at all except, when hard pressed, to cry, "Let 
Calvin answer for me." Which is to say that Cotton tried to adhere to the 
Protestant line until his colleagues forced him to recognize that he, for all 


his great position, would be sacrificed along with Mistress Hutchinson 
unless he yielded. As many another man in a similar predicament, Cotton 

According to this surreptitious report, the issue was clear: it was prepara- 
tion. The clergy, professing Calvinism, "would not believe themselves 
justified, no further then they could see themselves work; making their 
Markes, Signes, and Qualifications, the causes of their Justification." The 
Antinomians upheld the pristine thesis that justification is discerned "onely 
by Faith in the Free Promise." The text shows Cotton doggedly stand- 
ing this ground. Asked whether there are any conditions in the soul before 
faith "of dependence unto which, such promises are made," he replies: 
"To works of creation there needeth no preparation" here the uncom- 
promisable issue stares us in the face. Further along, in this volume, Cotton 
is represented as declaring that to see in sanctification an evidence of justifi- 
cation is "such a Faith as a practicall Sillogisme can make," which is not 
faith wrought by Almighty power; that a conviction engendered even by 
evangelical preaching should not be confounded with an action of faith; 
that God does not give grace upon the condition of our becoming prepared, 
because "it is not his good pleasure to give us our first comfort . . . from 
our owne righteousnesse." New England was plagued with Anne Hutchin- 
son long after the Indians beat out her brains, in England, where the new- 
fangled heresy of toleration permitted Antinomians freedom of the press, 
as had been pled for by John Milton, Protestantism was invited to judge 
between the ways of Hooker and of Mistress Hutchinson, for whom the 
still breathing John Cotton had proved a feeble reed. 

Anne Hutchinson said that her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, was 
the only minister beside Cotton who preached grace; on the fast day ap- 
pointed to bemoan these dissensions he preached an "incendiary" sermon, 
for which he was banished. Wheelwright later repudiated the Hutchin- 
sonians and is supposed to have told them that "whilst they pleaded for the 
Covenant of Grace, they took away the Grace of the Covenant." Yet in 
1637, he, like Cotton, was hostile to the notion of preparation. "To preach 
the Gospell, is to preach Christ . . . & nothing but Christ , . . so that 
neither before our conversion nor after, we are able to put forth one act 
of true saving spintuall wisdome, but we must haue it put forth from the 
Lord Jesus Christ, with whom we are made one." Hooker and Shepard 
were bending their energies to a discrimination of the successive periods of 
conversion; Wheelwright said that when the Lord works upon a man, 
He "revealeth not to him some worke, & from that worke, carieth him to 
Christ, but there is nothing revealed but Christ, when Christ is lifted vp, 
he draweth all to him, that belonged! to the election of grace." If men 
think they are on the highway after they have traversed the first mile but 
are not yet united to Christ, "they are saued without the Gospell." "No, 
no," he exclaimed, "this is a covenant of works." If so, Thomas Hooker 
knew on whose foot the shoe was intended to fit. 


Wheelwright's letters show him a man of integrity and stiff courage.. 
He must have known what he was doing when he introduced, as a possible 
objection to his doctrine, "this wil cause a combustean in Church & coman- 
wealth," and answered that it would indeed do precisely that "but what 
then, did not Chnst come to sende fire vpon the earth?" Therefore Wheel- 
wright had to be expelled. But what of Cotton? 

Winthrop managed to save him, but it was a near thing. Just how near 
depends upon which account we credit, Cornwell's or Cotton's own in 
The Way eleven years after the interrogation. Corn well has Cotton pre- 
sented with sixteen questions (all of them hinging on preparation), Cotton 
says he was asked only five (much more general). The fourth, Cotton 
says, was whether some saving qualification might not be a first evidence, 
to which he says he replied, "A man may have an argument from thence 
(yea, I doubt not a firm and strong argument) but not a first Evidence." 
There can be no doubt, whichever story is correct, that Cotton was sub- 
jected to a humiliating cross-examination "in preparation to the Synod," 
in which his colleagues vigorously searched his writings "to inquire in a 
brotherly conference with mee, how far I would own them." 

Wmthrop admits that his replies were not satisfactory; the Synod as- 
sembled with a stalwart group resolved to break him. Depending years 
later upon the report of a "gratious Preacher who was present," Baillie 
said that Cotton's brethren severely admonished him, bringing him "to the 
greatest shame, confusion and grief e of mind, that even m all his life he 
had endured." Cotton could truthfully say that nothing quite so terrible 
happened, but even he acknowledges that the conference came close to an 
impasse, "taken up in disputing and arguing that Point with mee." He 
saved his skin by coming to see that the apprehensions of the majority were 
suitable to certain phrases of Scripture: "I the next morning did of my self 
freely declare to them pubhkely, my consent with them in the point, which 
(as they professed) they gladly accepted." One feels certain that Master 
Cotton had slept but little that night. 

Cotton Mather had access to reports never written down, which he, 
assuredly, would have been the last in the world to make public. One 
of the joys (it is not widely shared) of reading the Magnaka is to admire 
its fast footwork. Not that Mather is dishonest he manfully faces up to 
distressing realities when he has to but with his italics and exclamations 
he often distracts attention from admissions he hopes the reader will not 
notice. He admits that "there was a dark day in the synod" when John 
Cotton seemed positively to deny that the first motions of faith are prepara- 
tory to justification; the arguments used against him are transparently 
those of Hooker, but Cotton Mather is happy to record that "Mr. Cotton 
the next morning made an excellent speech unto the assembly, tending 
towards an accommodation of the controversie." The paragraph then ends, 
in Magnalian opulence, "An hatyy conclusion of the whole matter"; but 
in the middle, without italics or emphasis, the formula of concord is briefly 


passed over: the Synod would concede to Cotton that the qualifications of 
grace "must ever be coexistent, concurrent, co-apparent," if Cotton would 
agree for his part that a soul's apprehension of Christ "is in order of nature 
before God's act of justification." By heightening the beginning and end 
of his narrative, Cotton Mather averted his gaze, and tried to draw ours 
aside, from his grandfather's abject surrender. 

All New England knew what had happened. Mrs. Hutchinson hope- 
lessly threw herself away by declaring that a special revelation promised 
her deliverance. The glee of the majority, as recorded in the stenographic 
transcript of the trial, is all too evident: now Cotton was caught, he had 
either to condemn her or go with her. Like the good man he was, he tried 
to get her to distinguish between such a Christian hope as anyone might 
legitimately entertain and a false revelation. Winthrop's Short Story tried 
to minimize Cotton's part, but had to notice that he "being present" was 
set to questioning his too ardent admirer j he had no choice but to bring 
her to her defiant assertion that it was supernatural intervention she counted 
on. Winthrop's account immediately drops Cotton, exults that the Jezebel 
delivered herself out of her own mouth, showing "that she walked by 
such a rule as cannot stand with the peace of any State," since she believed 
in bottomless revelations above reason and Scripture, not subject to any 
control. Thus he presents the New England Way as having come at once 
to a happy and orthodox concord, 

The transcript, however, tells a more dramatic story. Cotton clearly 
was trying to save Mrs. Hutchinson; when she refused to cooperate, the 
others could see through his game. By the time rumors of this episode 
reached England, they had it that Cotton was then admonished, he was 
not, but in a sense the facts were more harrowing. "I desire Mr. Cotton," 
demanded Dudley, "to tell whether you do approve Mrs. Hutchinson's 
revelations as she hath laid them down." Cotton evaded and made logical 
distinctions: "Good Sir," Dudley kept pressing, "I do ask whether this 
revelation be of God or no?" With Cotton sweating in the toils, Dudley 
would not let up: "Sir, you weary me and do not satisfy me." Endecott 
and others joined the chase; the game was treed when Wmthrop called 
them off: "Mr. Cotton is not called to answer to any thing but we are 
to deal with the party here standing before us." With that sentence Win- 
throp saved Cotton, and so was able to publish his account with the certifica- 
tion, "Mr. Cotton had in publique view consented with the rest*" 

In a volume published after his death, Cotton says that Grace "is not of 
our will but of the Lords, that takes away our strong heart, and gives us 
a soft heart before any preparation." This may have been written before 
1637, or it may show that even after that day Cotton had not really given 
up his conviction; but he made no more trouble, instead performed im- 
mense service for the regime. To Baillie and Williams he insisted that he 
had always been in perfect harmony with his brethren, and that it was 
sheer slander for the Antinomians to have said that no matter "what he 


saith in pubhck, we understand him otherwise, and we know what he saith 
to us m private." Because of this false report a "jealousie" spread in the 
country "that I was m secret a Fomenter of the Spirit of Familisme, if 
not leavened my selfe that way." He does tell Williams that he seriously 
contemplated leaving Massachusetts because in the opinion of many "such 
a Doctrm of Union, and evidencing of Union, as was held forth by mee, 
was the Trojan Hourse, out of which all the erroneous Opinions and dif- 
ferences of the Country did issue forth," But "private conference with 
some chiefe Magistrates, and Elders" discovered the agreement, and in the 
Synod and at the trial of the heretics in the First Church he paid full 
measure: "I bare witnesse against them." Naturally, as he presents his own 
case, he had not been recovered from error: it was "the fruit of our clearer 
apprehension, both of the cause and of the state of our differences, and of 
our joynt consent and concurrence." Therefore, Cotton could with a clear 
conscience say to Baillie, "All of us hold Union with Christ, and evidencing 
of Union by the same Spirit, and same Faith and same holiness." But what 
he could not say to either Baillie or Williams was that henceforth, when- 
ever he touched upon the subject of preparation, he was obliged to preface 
anything he would say with "Reserving due honor to such gracious and 
precious Saints, as may be otherwise minded." In his last years Cotton 
would still insist that the first work of conversion be of God and not man, 
and then add, "There are many sins which a man lives m, which he 
might avoid by very common gifts, which would he renounce, God would 
not be wanting to lead him to further grace." That was all Hooker meant 
by preparation, all that he forced John Cotton to confess. 

When he undertook to defend New England polity against Presbyte- 
rians, Cotton found the doctrine of his fellows a better bulwark than his 
own. When Baillie accused the ministers of neglecting conversions, Cot- 
ton told him to read the works of Shepard and Hooker and then declare 
whether "of all that have crossed the American seas" these can be thought 
lacking in such exertions. True, he inserted, these writers "sometimes de- 
clare such works of Grace to be preparations to conversion, which others 
do take to be fruits of conversion," but still, preparation was now the pecul- 
iar badge of New England's theology: "Yet they all agree in this, that 
such works are found in all that are under the powerfull and effectual 
saving work of the Spirit." 

In spite of Cotton's effort to drape the mantle of unanimity over the 
memory of this conflict, the scars remained. To the end of the century, 
even up to the Magnolia, the clergy keep rebutting Baillie and Williams 
thus proving how deeply those barbs had struck. In 1700 Higginson 
was still haunted by the business, and compulsively went over the ground 
again: Cotton had "differed from some of his Brethren in The Souls 
Preparation for Christ," and had accused them of taking those deeds for 
preliminaries which he thought were fruits, but, insists Higginson, this 
was never a serious issue because Cotton agreed that the deeds themselves 


were requisite. "And so the Difference is but Logical, and not Theologi- 
cal." But 1637 had certainly shown that those who would dispense en- 
tirely with preparation were at odds with the regime, not merely logi- 
cally and theologically, but socially "The difference between them and 
us is (as they say) as wide as between Heaven and Hell." Hooker thor- 
oughly understood what he had won, and pressed his advantage-, he spoke 
and wrote much on preparation, introducing his remarks, in striking con- 
trast to Cotton's apologies, with: "I shall not only speak mine own Judg- 
ment, but the Judgment of all my fellow Brethren, as I have just cause, 
and good ground to beleeve." As for the charge of Arminianism, Hooker 
disposed of that by flatly saying he was no Armiman. The last embers of 
heresy had to be beaten out: "The soule of a poore sinner must bee pre- 
pared for the Lord Jesus Christ, before it can receive him." People must 
exert themselves : "he watcheth the time till your hearts be ready to receive 
and entertame him." When with the help of Hooker's preaching the 
soul perceives it cannot save itself, it falls at the feet of the Lord, and 
although at that moment it has not yet any mastery over sin, "yet it is 
willingly content that Jesus Christ should come into it." A sharp sauce, said 
Hooker, never at a loss for metaphor, will not "breed a stomacke, yet it 
stirres up the stomacke"; so preparation, if sharply applied, stirs up the 
stomach of faith and of external conduct. 

Shepard capitalized no less than Hooker upon the triumph of the pre- 
paratory doctnne. He denounced as the worst of heretics those who teach 
that authentic grief can come only after the soul is safely in Christ by 
faith; a man who has not yet given thought to his sins is in no position 
to receive grace, even irresistible grace. It would be, he agreed, Pelagian- 
ism to say that a man disposes himself of his own power; nevertheless, an 
antecedent disposition is required; a form cannot be joined to matter until 
matter is "made such a vessel which is immediately capable" of the union. 
For ordinary minds this is difficult doctnne, and even angels may be 
"posed" by trying intellectually to expound it, but the practical conse- 
quence was obvious: before a soul can be changed it must learn to "lie 
like wax" beneath the seal. 

The real tendency of a Puritan discourse is seldom to be found in its 
"doctrine," nor even in its considered "reasons," but entirely in its "appli- 
cations." Hooker and Shepard shamelessly improve the concept of prepara- 
tion to mean that every man can perform the requisite actions. The soul 
cannot choose Christ "out of the power of nature" but an inn must be 
prepared to receive the guest, else He will go to another lodging! Or, as 
with a woman in childbirth: "when her throwes come often and strong, 
there is some hope of deliverance; but when her throwes goe away, com- 
monly the child dies, and her life too." Let predestination be what it may, 
the world calls him mad who argues, "I can do nothing for my self, there- 
fore I will take a course that no man shall do any thing for me." The con- 
clusion is inescapable: "Therefore I must attend upon God in those means 


which he useth to do for all those he useth to do good unto." It may not 
be in your power to make the Gospel "effectual" but "it is your power to 
doe more than you doe, your legs may as well carry you to the word, as 
to an Ale-house." You can sing the Psalms as well as idle songs, "you 
may read good books, as well as Play-books." In short, then, New England, 
following the lead of Hooker and not of Cotton, having weathered the 
storm of Antmomianism, could insist, "doe what you are able to doe, put 
all your strength, and diligence unto it." "We must fight for it, and wage 
the battels of the Lord," was Hooker's cry, because "it is possible for any 
Soule present (for ought I know or that he knows) to get an humble 
heart." Bulkeley put it in the less vivid but controlling imagery of the 
covenant: because a man can humble himself before God and entreat for 
a chance to enter it, "you see the way to enter into Covenant with God." 
This conclusion, even though it can be found potentially in European 
drafts of the federal theology, was forced into the open by American 
experience. Hooker's last sermons (his most enduring prose), The Appli- 
cation of Redemption, were published in 1657 by Goodwin and Nye, who, 
not having participated in the struggle of 1637, could appraise the direc- 
tion Hooker's thought had taken: he has been accused, they said, of 
"urging too far, and insisting too much upon that as Preparatory, which 
includes indeed the beginnings of true Faith." But by this time England 
had also encountered the Antinomian frenzy during the anarchy of the 
Civil Wars, and so welcomed this American assistance; Hooker was par- 
ticularly of value because he most thoroughly set to right "those that have 
slipt into Profession, and Leapt over all both true and deep Humiliation 
for sin, and sence of their natural Condition." With this approbation, the 
concept more than ever became a prized possession of New England 
orthodoxy, something that they above all others had tested, that they had 

By 1657 Antinomianism had run rife in England and, in the form of 
"Quakerism," seemed again invading New England, John Norton wrote 
The Orthodox Evangelist m order to systematize Hooker's teaching against 
this newest wave of enthusiasm; stripping the doctrine of Hooker's rhet- 
oric, he uncovered further meanings. Distinguishing between works which 
are preparatory in the sight of God and those which may be evaluated 
by men, he put all his emphasis upon the second sort. The period of prepa- 
ration became, in his treatment, a half-way station, neither sin nor virtue: 
"By preparatory Work, we understand certain inherent qualifications, 
coming between the carnal rest of the soul in the state of sin, and conver- 
sion wrought in the Ministry." It is a "common work of the Spirit," put- 
ting the soul into "a Ministerial capacity of believing immediately." In the 
work of grace, "as we ordinarily see in the Works of Nature, God pro- 
ceeds not immediately from one extream unto another, but by degrees." 
John Cotton had acceded to the formula that the stages of conversion 
were chronologically separate and sequential; what then was to prevent 


the process from being so extended as to leave a long duration, and so 
a more critical importance, to the period of preparation ? 

In fact, Norton managed to subdivide preparation itself into a series of 
distinguishable moments: believing in the holiness of the law would come 
first, then realizing the nature of sin, learning the message of Christ, com- 
prehending the need for repentance, and at last waiting upon Christ in 
the use of means under the Gospel Covenant. All these actions, mind you, 
while remaining passive' Preparation does not work a change of heart, 
"yet there are in it, and accompanying of it, certain inward workings, 
that do dispose to a change." Armimans and Pelagians allow too much to 
preparation we may wonder what more they could allow! but clearly 
all fanatical enthusiasts are wrong when they deny reality to the chain of 
antecedents. The moral is clear. "It is the duty of every one that hears 
the Gospel to believe, and that whosoever believeth shall be saved; but 
also it ministers equal hope unto all (answerable to their preparatory pro- 
ceeding) of believing, and being saved." This is the most helpful, as 
well as the speediest way, even though the minute subdivisions appear so 
cumbersome. This is the way to rescue and preserve a covenanted people. 

Increase Mather fled from England of the Restoration back to Massa- 
chusetts in 1661, filled with the resolution to uphold at home the primitive 
faith of the founders in all simplicity. At first he preached Cotton's views 
about preparation. Soon after, he began to hint that while the gate is 
indeed strait, yet God requires that men strive for entrance, and conse- 
quently that "they should do such things as have a tendency to cause them 
to Believe." Others in the second generation went more easily with the 
tide. Samuel Willard found it one of Satan's most subtle cheats "to tell us 
we must wait before we resolve." In A Com^leat Body he summarized, as 
always, a century of experience: in preparation the soul stands m "a pos- 
ture and readiness for the exerting of the act of Faith, which follows there- 

As late as 1690 there was still considerable confusion, and a few earnest 
believers even yet hankered after Cotton's rarefied doctrine. In the lull 
after the Revolution, a committee of ministers attempted to organize the 
New England tradition by a clear and concise statement of what the soci- 
ety theologically stood for: The Principles of the Protestant R#ltgion 
Mdntcaneci (Cotton Mather wrote it, but the Boston ministers signed it) 
said that even though men are saved by the will of God, nevertheless there 
are "some previous and preparatory common works" which may be done 
by all, though in those who afterwards fall away these are not to be re- 
garded as the beginnings of justification except that only afterwards can 
anyone tell' From then until Jonathan Edwards delivered his Boston ser- 
mon in 1731, most of the clergy spoke with a single voice. How may I 
know that I am saved? the people would ask; Samuel Mather would 
answer, "As your Conviction is, such your faith is: as is the preparation 
work, such is the closing with Christ." For this reason we press the work 


upon you, "And there is more preparation needful, than many think for. ;> 
The culmination of this development, as of many others, can be found 
m the writings of Cotton Mather. At the beginning of his literary career 
he was already so heedless of ancient scruples as Lo represent his brother 
Nathaniel entering into covenant with God before his regeneration, which 
transaction then became "an influence into his Conversion afterwards." He 
always conceived of grace as a graduated process which could be "cher- 
ished and promoted." There was no harm m trying "You must make a 
Tryal." He was persuaded, from the commencement of his ministry, that 
"never any Soul miscarried, that made such Applications," and, although 
God is not bound to those who seek Him, " 'Tis many ways Advantageous, 
for an Vnregenerate Man, to Do as much as he can." In all probability 
God intends to help him, "so that he shall do more than he can." In the 
ecstasy of freedom driven by the need of keeping the faith alive under 
a royal charter Mather could cry at last, "Try whether you can't give 
that Consent j if you can, 'tis done'" By a long road, through a thicket 
of scholastic distinctions and metaphysical dispute, the leaders of New Eng- 
land came to this highly pragmatical and socially advantageous injunc- 

Some philosophers although not all have remarked that the human 
mind does not operate m a vacuum. Theologians who devised the idea of 
preparation had been concerned not to enlarge the ability of unregenerate 
men, but to vindicate a divine order; a century later clerics still telt this 
concern: there is "an order in which he brings them to a participation," 
said Willard. But a new accent was developing, as in the language Cot- 
ton Mather freely used by 1702: because we are capable of "treaties, of 
proposals, of overtures," God exhorts us and employs arguments; He deals 
with us "as Rational Creatures." The phrase was even older than the 
usage of Preston and Ames, but they had put it in the center of the fed- 
eral theology; when we hear Cotton Mather insisting upon it, although 
he has changed no syllable m the assertion, we perceive that the history of 
the notion of preparation has carried us from the medieval universe of Prot- 
estant scholasticism to the very threshold of the Age of Reason. 





brave spirits at the English Cambridge in August 
1629 pledged themselves to migrate with the charter, their families, and all 
their worldly goods, "having weighed the greatness of the worke in re- 
gard of the consequence, God's glory and the churches good." As John 
Cotton later explained, since Christ had instituted no ordinance in vain, 
we dare not "so farre be wanting to the grace of Christ, and to the neces- 
sity of our own soules, as to sitt downe some where else, under the shad- 
owe of some ordinances, when by two months travayle we might come to 
enioy the liberty of all." To fall short in any particular of instituting every 
ecclesiastical command would be a deficiency of sincerity and a cause for 

The essence of the Congregational idea was the autonomous church, 
limited to visible saints and founded on a covenant of their profession, which 
meant deliberate exclusion of the townsfolk who submitted to (and paid 
for) the rule of the righteous. Presbyterians not only denounced the church 
covenant as an artificial notion foisted on the Bible, but predicted civil war 
for any society that dared "unchurch" the majority. In reply Congrega- 
tionalists first offered proof that the covenant was both Scriptural and ra- 
tional, and then demonstrated at length that it was a feasible method of 

As soon as debate was joined, Presbyterians and Continental Calvinists 
grew alarmed at what appeared the most sinister tendency m the Congre- 
gational plan "perfectionism." By delimiting churches to visible saints, it 
pretended to such excellence as the world had not witnessed since Christ 
culled the Apostles out of it. Sober theologians knew how grievously Chris- 
tendom had suffered from visionaries who usurped His powers of discrimi- 
nation, who then tried to purge the body and to inaugurate the communion 
of saints: the result had generally been such massacres of the ungodly as 
the Anabaptists perpetrated at Miinster. All Christendom clung to the 
teaching of Augustine that in this world the congregation of saints is scat- 
tered among reprobates. Calvinists treated regeneration as a sensible ex- 
perience, but would not allow any man, even the most skilled divine, to 
say to another, "You are infallibly elected." They did not believe that on 
this earth where hypocrisy is rife and where for every true convert there 
are a hundred deceivers the fact of predestination could serve as a basis 


for polity. With the New England success, Presbyterians, who had already 
accused Congregationalists of Anabaptism, became exceedingly apprehen- 
sive and so insisted all the more that the colonists were deluded perfec- 

However, virtually all Protestants agreed that the regenerate could be- 
come, despite the remaining stains of sin, capable of obeying the law not 
out of fear but out of positive freedom. Said the Confession, "Whenever 
God converts a sinner, and translates .him into the state of grace, he freeth 
him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone inables 
him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good." Although a 
man during preparation is technically "passive," once he has progressed to 
vocation, he may do wonders: "A Christians real Work begins when he is 
Converted," said Willard; faith is not an idle habit: "It is a principle of 
spiritual life which must have some act & exercise & that is doing the will 
of God" whether in pulpit or countinghouse. Infallible assurance is not 
essential to this unleashing of activity; a believer may wait long and con- 
front many difficulties, but faith in the least degree is "different in the 
kind or nature of it ... from the faith and common grace of temporary 
believers." Antmomians rushed to the conclusion that the grace of believ- 
ers could not be distinguished from that of hypocrites, but all Protestantism 
endorsed the Synod's assertion that saintly virtues are fundamentally dif- 
ferent from pretenses. If, then, redeemed believers are not merely liber- 
ated (to some extent) from sin, but can know that they are free, what is 
to prevent them from combining to make pure churches and a holy com- 
monwealth? Would they not thus carry the logic of the Reformation to 
its ultimate goal by creating a society truly dedicated to the glory of God? 
Against this argument, more cautious Calvimsts had to object that 
regenerate freedom was not easily recognized not because, as Antinomi- 
ans held, there was no real difference from ordinary ability, but because 
techniques for examination are fallible. However, the founders were not 
only Calvmists but federalists, and so believed that ascertainable evidences 
existed: the convert feels not only inward exultation, but a resolution to 
engage himself. "Because he is most free and willing to be the Lords . . . 
therefore he voluntarily binds himself to him." This very willingness, ac- 
companied with power, to take up the church covenant a disposition which 
could be tested by elders and the congregation became presumptive proof 
of experience, and a workable basis for the order. 

William James said that no formalized theology is ever an adequate 
translation of what goes on in the private man as he "livingly" expresses 
himself. Puritans would not have understood him : in their plan, a religious 
heart inevitably translated itself into the formulae of theology; to them 
the conception of private experience was real, but not of private expres- 
sion wherein they differed from modern poets. By the same token, a 
regenerated will would translate itself immediately into ecclesiastical and 
political action, upon which self-evident proposition they founded their 


churches. Their axiom put it. "The Covenant of Grace is cloathed with 
Church-Covenant in a Political visible Church- way." Their churches were 
born from liberated powers of consent and were not founded upon the fiat 
of governors, still less upon the custom of the country. To swear to the 
obligation of membership "is an evidence that God hath chosen us, entered 
into covenant with us & taken us to be his"; for according to federal logic, 
"all real hearty acts in us of chusmg & engaging our selves to God . . . 
flow from the instinct of Gods spirit toward us & from that impression 
which like acts of his hath made upon us." Congregationalism was not 
Anabaptism, but a reasonable and sober program which could safely be 
put into practice as long as a civil authority guarded the churches' right 
to exclude the incompetent. It would not produce chaos, because those who 
called themselves saints would bind themselves, through the church cove- 
nant, to sobriety. 

However, the objection of Presbyterians, having behind it the weight of 
centuries, had to be treated with respect. Being good Protestants, the found- 
ers knew that full assurance and perfect holiness are never obtained ; sanc- 
tification is always impertect, and the elect do not entirely free themselves 
on this side of the grave from the flesh. No man, even though a member 
of the church covenant, is above temptation. 

Were not New Englanders then in an untenable position when they 
founded churches upon profession? Were they not sophistically disguising 
their perfectionism? Were not Antinomians more consistent in deciding 
that if the institutions were pure, members need not worry about their 
own impurities? With what face could the Synod say, "A. man may truely 
feare God (therefore truely converted) and yet walke in darknesse, with- 
out cleare evidence or full assurance"? The colonial clergy were sifting 
out saints from sinners while insisting that saints could not even recognize 
themselves. How could they tell one from another if the true believer 
walked in a darkness more impenetrable than sin itself ? 

The founders might have ndden roughshod over this objection by assert- 
ing that their techniques were infallible but that would indeed have been 
perfectionism. They always predicted that even the closest examination 
would not distinguish all the elect. The federal theology never denied, it 
positively insisted that man is a creature without rights or certainties, with 
whom God deals as He pleases j but thereupon it whispered that God has 
been pleased to deal through specified terms. Conversion works by degrees, 
from preparation through calling, faith, justification, adoption, sanctifica- 
tion, up to, at the end of the long process, assurance. The last may for 
some time be wanting to those who have true grace in their hearts; pos- 
sibly they may never come to it. The spintual life, said Hooker, is "partly 
collied and bemired with corruptions," and to go no further than outward 
judgments, saints "are the most forlorn, despicable Persons upon the face 
of the Earth." God may especially withhold assurance from them lest they 
should become proud "and pranke up themselves in regard of their privi- 


ledges, and be carried with contempt of the weakness of their fellow 
brethren." Because, as Hooker most profoundly understood, the stages of 
conversion are many and difficult, we seldom know with absolute certi- 
tude who are members of the invisible church, "for the truth of grace is 
invisible to man." 

The first generation never forgot this clear-sighted theology, and never 
claimed that gracious power would in every case automatically flow into 
ecclesiastical behavior. Because a man might be converted without ever 
coming to assurance, much less to a demonstration, they never expected 
the circle of the church to coincide precisely with the Covenant of Grace. 
Eternal life is promised to the elect, but church membership only to those 
who exhibit signs of election. When Presbyterians accused Congregation- 
alists of trying to track down the untraceable, of building upon uncertain- 
ties, they replied that their churches were founded upon firm manifestations 
of ability. "Christ believed on, is the Foundation, or Rock of the Cathohck 
invisible Church : But Christ believed on and confessed, is the Rock where- 
upon a particular visible Church is built." A man of faith, lacking knowl- 
edge, may have fellowship with God, but he must have both in order to 
enjoy church fellowship. These societies were constructed on open cove- 
nants, openly arrived at. 

That there were hazards in administration, the founders admitted; that 
government requires skill and tact, they boasted; but an occasional dis- 
crepancy the exclusion of an authentic saint unable to profess did not 
invalidate the system. And by the same logic, the inclusion of some who 
mistook natural conviction for a work of grace, who m false strength 
swore to the covenant and later proved unable to live by it, did not destroy 
the covenanted society. As the metaphysical distinction between the two 
aspects, internal and external, of the Covenant of Grace was widened, the 
founders showed themselves sober realists, not distracted idealists. There- 
fore they were prepared to rest much of their case upon a frank admission 
that many of their visible samts were hypocrites, and that hypocrisy had 
a positive function in their system. 

At the heart of it, this ecclesiastical theory was an effort to reconcile a 
basic conflict: it would carry out the Reformation by a voluntary purifica- 
tion of the churches, but at the same time take account of sad experience 
and exact nothing beyond human possibilities. The civil arm guarded the 
fold, but no will was coerced. Among non-members there might be pre- 
cious souls to whom the New England Way was ready to extend the hand 
of fellowship "in case they shall desire it," but they had to express the de- 
sire. Surely this was not too much to demand? "Seeing such are not liable 
and subject to the Churches censure, it is not meet they should partake 
of the Churches pnviledges, therefore we have hitherto forborn it until 
further light shall appeare." By the present light, a man who convincingly 
yielded himself to the censure was capable of the privileges. Ergo, only 
those should be lawfully received who would before the Lord and His 


people "professe their repentance, and faith in Christ, and subjection to 
him in his ordinances' and do not scandalize their profession, with an un- 
christian conversation." Such was the eminently practical Utopia which 
signers of the Cambridge Agreement undertook to set up in America 
in their forewarned innocence. 

To expound the relation of inward to outward covenant, the Congre- 
gational theorist resorted, as with every vexing question, to the logic of 
Petrus Ramus. He found a satisfactory solution to any problem as soon as 
he could define the nature of a relationship; once he could show that the 
terms were in disagreement with each other, he had demonstrated a law 
of God no less than when he proved them in agreement. Once all forms 
of connection are specified and named and then ranged in schematic series, 
man has a logical transcript of the wisdom of God in so far as that is man- 
ifested in creation. An effect, for example, is tied to its cause by the rule 
of "consent," but black stands toward white by the equally satisfactory 
principle of "opposition." What applies to one set of terms does not have 
to preside over another. Disjunction is as much a law of God as harmony, 
and because men come upon a contradiction in their thinking, or in the 
working of their polity, they are not to surrender to "epicurean" skepti- 
cism, but to study the nature of the discrepancy, and give it the proper 
habitation and name. When experience shows a deviation from doctrine, 
the latter is not to be discarded; instead, the exact form of the deviation 
should be established, and then fitted to that particular concept of relation- 
ship which, in the hierarchical structure, describes it. 

So with the problem of the inward and outward covenant. At first sight, 
logic would assume that men who subscribed the first would for that rea- 
son take up the second. The latter is, as Hooker put it, "within the verge 
and contained within the compasse" of the former. Nevertheless, what 
gradually appeared was that the two allegiances were not related as cause 
and effect, but as discreet "modes." Which meant that each could be sep- 
arately described without the one necessarily and always presupposing 
the other. 

Not that the two lost all connection. The inner might still serve as cause 
for the outer effect, but when, for the purposes of logical analysis, the two 
became "distributions" of the same thing "into divers Adjuncts of the same 
Members of the same Church," then each acquired a life of its own, each 
could be discussed as though not attached to the same member, as though 
each was the adjunct of a member entirely separate from the other. Two 
distinguishable "arguments" which in some cases are united by the rule 
of agreement may, in other instances, be connected, just as indissolubly, by 
the rule of "partial dissent." God may interrupt any sequence, or put a 
different cast upon it, having in view some larger purpose. By confronting 
dislocations in his formulated scheme, man is forced to search out higher 
consistencies; and to discover, under the stress of American experience, that 
inner and outer were joined together under more headings than he had at 


first supposed would be to strengthen rather than weaken Congregational 

Therefore when Hooker said the church was contained within the Cove- 
nant of Grace, he acknowledged that "in Propriety of speech" they were 
not identical. A man might be gracious, and yet be cast among Mohamme- 
dans or into a desert where he could not gather with others to form a 
church, yet he would be saved. A higher concern would take precedence 
over the ordinary: God would wish to try the believer by an extraordinary 
ordeal, or to raise up a martyr reason enough for abrogating the rule 
of agreement and substituting that of partial dissent. 

But if, when the two covenants thus partially dissented, men could be 
received into the internal without enacting the external, did it not follow 
that others might come into the external without a previous reception into 
the internal? Could one achieve terms satisfactory to the church who had 
never been delivered from sm ? If the external order has its own rules, 
would not conformity be enough for external sancti cation ? Since the one 
can exist without the other, would not hypocrites be satisfactory members 
of an externally covenanted church? 

Congregational theorists had fully anticipated these questions. William 
Ames early explained that when men gather to hear the Word, they are 
illuminated by the offer of the Covenant of Grace; only the elect receive 
the offer, but the illumination "is sometime, and in a certaine manner 
granted to those that are not elected." The church must accept them, for 
Christ has ordered it to receive all who profess Him; all such, "so long 
as they remained in that society are members of that Church as also of the 
Catholick Church as touching the outward state, not touching the inward 
or essential state." The settlers conned this lesson. Davenport said that the 
blessings of the Covenant of Grace "are limited to the persons of true Be- 
lievers in the sight of God," but the blessings of the church "are given to 
a society of true Believers, in the account of the Church." Since the two 
are separable, said Hooker, "The wicked are in Covenant with the Lord 
outwardly, but not inwardly." Even when the church is vigilant, there 
are bound to be more outward than inward saints* "This outward is more 
large, the inward is more sure; the outward is larger, and may issue from 
false grounds." Hooker prefaced The Survey of the Summe of Church- 
Discipline with a warning: "A man may be in the Covenant of grace, and 
share in the benefit thereof, who is not in a Church state ; and a man may 
be in a Church state, who is not really in the Covenant of grace." 

Hooker was the "most melting," in Cotton Mather's phrase, of all the 
founders, and, as we have seen, most positive about the validity of prepa- 
ration. He recognized how secret was the operation of the Holy Spirit, but 
would also exclaim: "Give me a Christian that God doth please to worke 
upon in this extraordinary manner, and to breake his heart soundly." Such 
a one could learn to walk with care, whereas a doubting and distressed 
spirit for whom Hooker was so solicitous "doth but little good in his 


place, and hath little comfort coming to him." He found it "to my blmde 
judgement incredible, that the soule of a man in faith shall fall upon the 
promise, and leave it selfe there with contentednesse" ; yet he knew that 
this happened. He, more than any other, labored not to confuse an influx 
of the Holy Ghost with "federal holiness" ("Therefore covenant grace 
is one, and saving grace is another"), yet he more than any other refused 
to arrogate to himself that judgment which must be left to God: 

Now federall grace is such, as all false hypocrites have, federall grace they have 
enough to shew, and may receive the seals . . . We cannot say this man is one 
sealed for salvation, and here is one sealed for perdition j no man can say this child 
or this man shall be damned I cannot say, this or that man is a reprobate, if all the 
Churche on earth were together; there are many that shall be damned, yet I cannot 
say this man or that shall be damned. 

Hooker so impressed this warning upon the Connecticut Valley that it 
blossomed in the teaching of Solomon Stoddard, and later bore strange fruit 
in the mind of Edwards; meanwhile, the churches were in substantial 
agreement. The Covenant of Grace was twofold even while single. Those 
were externally within it "who expressing their repentance, with their 
profession of the truth, ingage themselves to walk in the waies of God, and 
in the truth of his worship, though they have not for the present that sound 
work of Faith m their hearts, and may be shall never have it wrought by 
Gods spirit in them." Shepard put it that all are not Israel who are of 
Israel, and frankly announced, "It is clearer than day that many who are 
inwardly, or in respect of inward covenant, the children of the devil, are 
outwardly, or in respect of outward covenant, the children of God." Wil- 
lard explained that while the Covenant of Grace is indivisible, it admits of 
a "double consideration," and in its outer aspect "extends, or bears a rela- 
tion, not only to such as are true Beleevers, but others also, viz., Unto 
all those that are in the Visible Church . . . professing Obedience to 
Gospel-Order and Ordinances." Calvimsts came to New England m order 
to establish churches limited to the elect; at the same time they publicly 
admitted, "It is not real, but visible faith, not the inward being, but the 
outward profession of faith . . . that constitutes a visible church." 

Ramists held that logic was derived from experience by "invention." 
Therefore, logic had to remain faithful to reality: it could not create fanci- 
ful constructions, but only make replicas of that pattern of ideas embodied 
in creation. If God so desired, He could call His saints by an audible 
voice, or by investing them with a halo visible to the naked eye. Instead, 
He had chosen to deal with them as with rational creatures, to offer per- 
suasions and inducements. Were He to distinguish the elect by physical 
stigmata, they would flow into the church as readily as water runs down 
hill. By such means, God might insure the purity of the church, but only 
by turning saints into automata. Eschewing such compulsions, He has pro- 
vided that the Word should come to men's ears externally and sensibly, 


"containing letters and syllables." Since fallen man remains incapable of 
responding unless grace accompanies the syllables, in every evangelical 
appeal there is a double striving, or rather, on the part of the listener, a 
double apprehension. "Gods Spirit doth not alwayes accompanie the Preach- 
ing of the word by its efficacious workings; God many times strives onely 
by his word, and by the common workings of his Spirit, by instruction, by 
conviction, by correction." The word is two words: the internal, "which 
secretly speaks to the heart," and the external, which "only speaks to the 

By choosing the method of rational address, God runs the hazard of 
employing devices which permit certain of the reprobate to imitate the 
true response. By summoning the elect, not with a voice from heaven, but 
by letters and syllables, He allows the unregenerate to overhear the call, 
and to act as though it were meant for them. So, said Cotton, "To dis- 
tinguish in men between that Sanctification which floweth from the Law, 
and that which is of the Gospel, is a matter so narrow, that the Angels of 
Heaven have much adoe to discern who differ" wherefore a mere par- 
son can hardly "cut the scantling in it." A clergy obliged to admit only 
those veritably sanctified would face the impossible. But again God adapts 
His method to humanity. Covenants require men to accept an offer, and 
therefore willingness to accept may be adjudged a criterion of inward con- 
sent. The consequence is ineluctable: willingness to take up the ecclesiasti- 
cal obligation establishes qualification for membership, and those who so 
engage "become the People of God, by an outward Denomination," no 
matter how they may be listed in the secret book of judgment. 

In each "consideration" the pattern of freedom is respected: as an in- 
ward summons without response does not constitute the invisible church, 
"so neither doth an externall calling constitute a visible Church, without 
an externall answer of that call." The church inspects only what it can 
inspect. We do not inquire into the invisible church, said Hooker, because 
that body is "not to be seen by sense." And yet it is reasonable that the 
visible should be founded upon that which cannot be seen: "The Politicall 
body or Church visible results out of that relation, which is betwixt the pro- 
fessours of the faith, when by voluntary consent they yield outward sub- 
jection to that government of Christ, which in his word he hath pre- 
scribed." If this seemed difficult to the contemporaneous mind, as it may 
to ours, George Phillips made it crystal clear to the former by drawing 
on the terminology of physics: in so far as members are related to Christ 
internally, they cannot be the "form" of a church; "the manifestation 
of these maketh them to be fit matter for a Church, which yet cannot be 
a church without the form added to the matter, and that is a covenant." 

Thus armed by logic and physics, the founders set up purified churches 
which admitted impure persons. Since the elect are mingled with the 
wicked world, men can judge only by evidences, wherefore Christ "hath 
bestowed these offices as a royal gift upon the visible Church." As an in- 


strument for the dispensation of grace, the church must be kept as pure 
as possible, but because it can determine only by sense, it is not to aim at 
unearthly perfection. Critics did not understand the logical distinction of 
the twofold holiness, of the intimate but discrete connection between the 
internal and the "foederall." The saints of New England were holy men, 
but their inward condition was suspect even to themselves. They were abso- 
lutely certain only of their federal status, and upon that and that alone 
they erected a city upon Beacon Hill. 

The founders were so intent upon the success of their enterprise that 
they were ready to take the cash and pray for the credit. The success or 
failure of their regime became the criterion of their reasoning. In Eng- 
land, they had been so passionately committed to the struggle that they 
never took thought for what their problem might become in the face of 
triumph. Inevitably they believed that all would be well once abuses were 
abolished. But success in New England altered cases. In America they 
made the will of God prevail; there were no more crusades, and the only 
problem was how to stabilize victory. Having mastered their world, Puri- 
tans had to live in it. The subtle shift in fast-day proclamations from sen- 
sible judgments to the ravages of sin is a measure of the process by which 
Joshuas and Aarons were transformed into magistrates and parsons. The 
latter found themselves, greatly to their surprise, driven to advertising their 
church polity less as a perfect exemplification of the New Testament 
model than as an instrument by which men might observe the laws of God 
and of man. 

The first symptom of accommodation was an effort to lower the stand- 
ards for church membership. Leaders soon were acknowledging that in the 
flush of the first days they employed "unscriptural seventies," and by 1640 
or shortly thereafter, they were proclaiming that they did not exact im- 
possible measures. Cotton professed a preference for admitting ninety-nine 
hypocrites to excluding one humble soul: "It is one thing to be satisfied 
in judgment of Chantie; another, in truth of smcentie." Davenport, the 
most severe, would give those "weake in Faith" the benefit of every doubt j 
Shepard confessed that since by rule we never know the reality of a pro- 
fession, "so long as the rule be attended, we leave every one to the wis- 
dom of Christ." In the Survey Hooker defined the qualifications for fed- 
eral holiness with a latitude unthinkable twenty years before: if a man 
professes faith, does not live openly in sin, has some knowledge and can 
give a reason for his hope, "These be grounds of probabilities, by which 
Charity poised according to rule may and ought to conceive, there be some 
beginnings of spirituall good." The records do not always tell how rapidly 
particular churches lowered the bars, but by the end of the century the 
teaching had become almost everywhere that words and deeds were 
enough, "to the Judgement of rational Charity," to determine the marks 
of federal holiness. 

A further and even more striking development appears in the writings 


of the 1640 J s: a manifest willingness, which increased after the Antino- 
mian affair, to take federal holiness at face value, and to accept it as suffi- 
cient for the purposes oi earthly society. Objections have been made, said 
Shepard, on the ground that federal saints "have no saving grace many 
times . . . and many of them degenerate and prove corrupt and wicked." 
To which he answered, "Suppose all these, yet God may take them into 
outward covenant (which is sufficient to make them the church seed, or 
members of the church) although he doth not receive them into inward 
covenant." After all, the Lord is in some sense engaged to them; prom- 
ises belong to those of the church "among whom usually and ordinarily 
he works this great work, leaving him to his own freeness of secret mercy, 
to work thus on whome he will, and when he will" so that the chances 
of their eventually becoming actual as well as official saints were great. 
We should not despise or cast off an ordinance because there may be 
"many weaknesses" in it. Of course, Shepard, having publicly fought the 
Antinomians, could well afford to amplify the external covenant; when 
we find Cotton also actively engaged in doing so, we may suspect that he 
was trying to cleanse himself of the taint of suspicion. Men are indeed 
carnal, "but what is all this to prove that such as are carnel by naturall 
generation, cannot be holy by the grace of the Covenant? or that it may 
not please God to admit them to the outward dispensation of his Covenant, 
whose inward spiritual estate hee is not pleased with?" Even though all 
they have is "an historical and temporary faith," they can do the duties 
of the church. Though a congregation be full of offenders, it is still beau- 
tiful in the sight of God provided it be in covenant. Once received, "at 
least m outward profession, of the fundamentals of sound doctrine and 
pure worship," it is a true church and will remain true, "though they or 
their children may afterwards degenerate, and go on whoring from God 
in doctrine and worship." Surely these assertions ought to be enough to 
exonerate New England (and incidentally John Cotton) from the charge 
of Antinomian perfectionism. 

Unfortunately, they were not. The leaders might widen the doors and 
disavow all aspirations beyond federal holiness: nevertheless they restricted 
the membership. They would not open the gates to all inhabitants, and 
they would still require that candidates show more than a halting familiar- 
ity with the catechism. These demands remained, despite their glosses, 
severe enough to exclude the majority even in the dedicated communities 
of Massachusetts and Connecticut. 

And then in the England of the Civil Wars three developments took 
place which left the New England theorists bewildered and dazed. First 
of all, old England swarmed with visionaries and perfectionists: Anabap- 
tists, Muggletomans, Antinomians, Quakers, and worst of all Levellers. 
All these groups began as "Independents" that is, with the Congrega- 
tional principle of a holy church membership. Yet, instead of heeding the 
precautionary intricacies of the American order whereby the principle was 


defended even while fallibility was recognized, every one of these compa 
nies let the conviction of a peculiar purity run away with it, until each 
ended by arrogating unto itself all virtue and truth. This travesty of Con- 
gregationalism was bad enough, and should have called for repressive meas- 
ures from the civil authority. Instead, New Englanders' own brethren 
used their authority to extend toleration to these same rampaging Inde- 
pendents. Instead of standing firm upon restricted churches that were yet 
skeptical about bringing a heaven on earth, Cromwell allowed these mani- 
acs to call themselves the city of God. Whereupon, a third result appeared' 
the Presbyterians who were at one with the colonists in theological or- 
thodoxy and political philosophy blamed the whole shambles upon Congre- 
gationalism, and traced the source of all anarchy to New England ! 

New Englanders could not but abhor the sects, who seemed to them 
perverters of the divine polity. They could not but be shocked at the 
political treason of the Independents, as they could not but be grieved by 
the charges of the Presbyterians. The world had gone mad, and left 
them stranded. Only one thing could they do- in order to repudiate the 
sectaries, maintain intolerance, and refute Presbyterians, they had no 
choice but to make positive capital out of the fact that they suffered and 
utilized a fair number of hypocrites. They had to say that while indeed 
they had hoped to confine the outward to the inward covenant, they had 
never expected or really never wanted to succeed so marvelously but 
what their churches would still be imperfect and therefore subject to regu- 
lation. They were obliged to widen still more the disjunction of the two 

The great Scottish Presbyterian, Samuel Rutherford, sneered at them m 
the name of all the Calvinist theologians Beza, Peter Martyr, Piscator, 
Pareus, Zanchius each of whom held that every citizen except those spe- 
cifically excommunicated should be within the church, so that "our breth- 
ren cannot build their new Churches, but be loosing the foundation stones 
layed by these worthy builders." Since Congregationalists confess that they 
cannot decipher the inward faith, they too "admit without sinne, multitudes, 
who eat and drink their own damnation." Why then should they not 
receive all the damned? Why select only a few? Had New England 
claimed that its churches were one with grace, they would have been 
foolish but at least consistent; by admitting that they judged only accord- 
ing to the rules of charity, they convicted themselves of absurdity. Even 
Christ admitted Judas, whom He knew was no saint j what possible sense 
could there be in setting up qualifications which any hypocrite could meet? 
"By our brethrens way, workers of iniquity, and those that are never 
known nor chosen of God, but are exactly gilded hypocrites . . . are vis- 
ible Saints, not because they are so, but because they are falsely esteemed 
by men to be such." The New England Way put a premium upon hypoc- 
risy; it was "not a whit a cleaner visible Church then our way." Another 


Presbyterian leader, Samuel Hudson, seized upon the admission that men 
must judge by appearances and pulled New England's logic apart; obvi- 
ously whatever coherence there once was in the effort to administer the 
Lord's Supper exclusively to the godly had collapsed, and "I fear the 
Elders in New-England do not in their consciences judge so of all their 
members." If the colonial clergy have come to the point of unanimously 
proclaiming that visible instead of true faith is their requirement, asked 
still another Presbyterian, Daniel Cawdry, then "what degree of visible 
Saintship is required to make men members of a visible Church?" He was 
amused to note that the standard had already been lowered "if they 
be grown tenderer since, it is well" but once started along this road, 
should they not better hasten to the end of it, and resolve "for charity to 
proceed by negation, rather than affirmation?" This would mean admit- 
ting everybody except those expelled for censurable offenses. 

There is no greater irony in the history of Protestantism than the de- 
fense which these Americans put up. Fifteen years after the founding of 
the city on a hill, the clergy were expending their dialectical skill in prov- 
ing that it was riddled with imperfections. The New Englanders' plan, 
said Davenport, was to go as far as they could, "with due moderation and 
gentleness, to try them, who offer themselves to fellowship, whether they 
be Believers, or not; refusing known Hypocrites; though when they have 
done all they can, close Hypocrites will creep in." Upon John Cotton fell 
the chief responsibility for presenting the official thesis. He had to twist 
the case of Judas into a Congregational reading: Christ "made as good 
choyce as choyce could be made, and yet hee would have us see, what we 
may not unjustly expect in the like case." Invoking again the logic of 
Ramus, Cotton said that to speak of members as regenerate is to speak 
of what they "ought to be de jure . . . rather then what they are, or 
are want to be de facto" Anyway, at the end of it, "hypocrites in outward 
profession and appearance, go for faithful and godly." Samuel Willard 
again codified a century of experience: profession "may be Hypocritical, 
the Experience o discerning Men, hath sufficiently proved." 

The experience of discernment' The professions of hypocrites may be 
insincere, but what they profess remains true. Though they have no real 
sanctification, they have "gifts"" which cannot be entirely "meer counter- 
feit pretences." The motive for this expansion of New England thought 
is not far to seek. When Sir Richard Saltonstall, having returned to Eng- 
land and moved with the Independents into toleration, wrote to Cotton 
that for New England to force non-members to attend ordinances was 
to make them hypocritical, Cotton came back with: "Hypocrites give God 
part of his due, the outward man, but the prophane person giveth God 
neither outward nor inward man." As long as hypocrites keep up their 
hypocrisy, they are "serviceable and useful in their callings" which is an 
immense help to the national covenant. Thus they "become very service- 


able sometimes in the Commonwealth, sometimes in the Church." A 
man's evident lack of regeneration remains a just cause for refusing him 
admission to the church, but after he is in, even if the lack becomes equally 
evident, it "is not a just cause of casting him out of the Church, after he 
be received." While he is m, he may not be saved, but he can be put to 

In the first drafts of Congregational doctrine there is a buoyant optimism, 
an assurance that saints could be gathered into holy fellowship, that the 
purity of the New Testament could be realized in New England villages. 
But a decade after the fathers had migrated, they were outdoing Presby- 
terians in what sounds like cynicism. Rather than admit that they were 
wrong rather than go back to Presbyterianism or open the churches to 
the mass of inhabitants they sicklied over the enterprise with the pale 
cast of metaphysics and special pleading, until it lost all other name for 
action than maintaining the forms. 

Yet there are, of course, qualifications. In the first place, while gener- 
ously admitting the existence of hypocrisy, the leaders were still pressing 
upon auditors the necessity for sincerity, and making the life of hypo- 
crites as uncomfortable as possible. "It is not enough to bee Church- 
members, or visible Saints," said Charles Chauncy, "but wee must be 
sanctified in truth and reallity." Secondly, their defense of hypocrisy was 
a determined effort of the clergy to guard, even unto formality, the vital 
principle of consent, for hypocrites did give at least the semblance of an act 
of will and were in the churches not by compulsion but by choice. And 
thirdly, the clergy felt it all to their credit that they did not aim at the 
impossible, and that they could profit from American experience to lower 
their sights. The Antinomian notion that men in the Covenant could 
give over all doubts showed a blindness, according to the Synod, to the 
immensely human fact that the best of men will always be "exercised with 
sweete doubtmgs and questions." The difficult lesson of life is to learn 
how to do the will of God without expecting too much. The true temple 
of the Holy Ghost is hidden and invisible j if we preach that churches or 
political parties should be what none ever shall be not even m America 
will not men abandon society entirely "to seek Christ (where he is found 
in true spirituall life) in deserts and secret chambers?" By accepting the 
hazard of hypocrisy, by refusing to pretend that it did not flourish, the 
Puritans were m effect accepting the responsibilities of living in society 
even though they found these more complicated and more frightening than 
they had anticipated. 

Thus the mind of New England became committed to a proposition 
of which it never thereafter lost sight: the land is full of hypocrites, but 
they have their uses. "This," said Shepard, "serves to clear us in this 
country from a foul aspersion that is cast out of the mouths of pulpits upon 
us, that we hold the churches of Christ to have no hypocrites in them." 
If to Europeans this seemed such a condoning of hypocrisy as would belie 


the American profession of unique virtue, in America die recognition 
marked a stage of self-knowledge. It was not a confession of failure, but 
a discovery of uses to which an unforeseen development could be put. The 
city on the hill quickly began to prove one in which hypocrisy itself could 
be employed for the benefit of society. 




in the first decades of practicing their polity rather 
than theorizing about it, New Englanders discovered that, divinely com- 
missioned though it was, it could not be kept frozen. Still, they could as- 
suage misgivings by the reflection that they were not altering any particulars, 
but with the help of logic were drawing out of the Testaments "further 
light." As the external covenants of the nation and church developed a 
greater degree of "partial dissent" from the Covenant of Grace than they 
had foreseen, they found themselves free to treat each as a separate domain 
with laws of its own. Thus preparation could sustain the nation and mere 
profession the ecclesiastical contract. 

Very shortly the theorists had impressed upon them a further respect 
in which, externality being described externally, both hypocrisy and pro- 
fession radically dissented from the Covenant of Grace: they required con- 
tinuity. Faith is an "eternal" union, but the believer carries his portion of 
it out of this world; a supply of saints is replenished by a series of discrete 
conversions, no one of which has an organic connection with its predeces- 
sors. But churches and nations do not die, or must not be allowed to; obli- 
gations accepted by one generation must be passed on to the next. Chil- 
dren must be inserted like replacements in a regiment, the cadre must be 
kept up to strength. Outward covenants remain viable as long as their 
particular terms are met. 

In England, Hooker had said, "If that a people doe outwardly worship 
God, and sincerely mend things that be amisse, they may continue"; even 
Sodom and Gomorrah, had they only "legally" repented, would have 
stood. Cotton assured the departing fleet that security would cease only 
when ordinances failed. Hooker and Cotton were not excusing formality 
but heartening devout and sincere pilgrims: "If God plant his Ordinances 
among you, feare not, he will maintaine them." The least of doubts was 
that there might be no supply of converts down the generations, not be- 
cause the ordinances would raise them up, but because the Almighty, ac- 
cording to His covenant, would pour forth the blessing where the external 
conditions were maintained. "It stands in reference to the covenant with 
God, and also the engagement of God to entertaine such as are rightly 
disposed and fitted for a covenant-holinesse." Starting with a superabun- 
dant stock of inherent godliness, New England could organize its churches 


on a federal principle, confident that "the soul that engaged it self, he set 
himself for God to attend upon him, and his posterity to do so." 

Had they not been supremely assured that among their successors the 
preponderance of converts would never shrink below the danger point, the 
founders would not have undertaken the venture. They rested this ex- 
pectation upon two securities, their doctrine of the sacraments and the 
federalist exegesis upon Genesis 17. 

In sacramental theory Congregationalists modestly claimed that they 
alone of all Protestantism exorcised the last vestiges of Catholic "supersti- 
tion," They alone allowed to these observances no slightest inherent effi- 
cacy. Federal logic enabled them most roundly to define the sacraments 
not as "means" but only as "seals of the covenant," stamps of approval 
placed upon a transaction previously consummated. The Lord's Supper 
was given to none but those who had made a profession; baptism was 
bestowed, not on all children, but exclusively upon those whose parents 
had been professing Christians. 

Calvin had said that the most diabolical stratagem of Popery was its 
"representing the sacraments as the cause of justification," for thus they 
envelop the minds of men, "naturally too much inclined to the earth, in 
gross superstition, leading them to rest in the exhibition of a corporeal 
object rather than in God himself." New England stood firm very firm 
upon his teaching, and so put into practice, as he himself never quite did, 
his assertion that since the two rites have no "perpetual inherent virtue, 
efficacious of itself to the advancement or confirmation of faith," they can 
profit only those whose hearts are "already instructed." Because God is not 
confined to corporeal mechanism, participation in seals must come to men 
only after regeneration; otherwise, those who venture to receive them 
succeed only "in eating and drinking damnation unto themselves." 

If it were true as all Protestants declared "that except a man be in 
Christ, he must not, hee ought not to apply to himself any of these spiritual 
pnviledges that wee have by him," then Congregationalists had the cour- 
age to draw the conclusion which scandalized all other Protestants. Why 
encourage unregenerates to eat and drink destruction? Presbyterians vehe- 
mently objected that the church cannot tell who in this life already has 
faith; Ames and Preston announced that it is visibly manifested in a read- 
iness to take the covenant. There must be, as Preston put it, a double act, 
"one on our part, another on Christs part," wherefore there must be some- 
thing in our hearts and deeds to show that we have done our share. "Now 
if thou finde in thyself these two things . . . ihen certainly thou art in 
Christ; and if it be so, all the prmledges belong to thee; if not, thou hast 
nothing to do with this Holy Sacrament." 

John Preston, Master of Emmanuel College, was a consummate poli- 
tician who ventured to sup with a short spoon, if not with the Devil, then 
with the next devil to him, the Duke of Buckingham. Even as his editors, 
after his death in 1628, were preparing his manuscripts for publication, the 


political hope was waning in England. If any Puritan party should yet win 
the state, it would clearly be the Presbyterians, who had every intention, 
once in power, of baptizing everybody and forcing all except the openly 
scandalous to take the Supper. But true reformation, Preston had pre- 
dicted, would come only when polity conformed to theology, and ordi- 
nances were not expected to serve as instruments for working upon a mul- 
titude. "Consider what the Gospell is, and the Covenant, and you shall 
know what this is, for it is but a Scale." To make his point, Preston hit 
upon a metaphor that was to be worked to death in America. 

As among men, when a man conveyes either land or money, to another man, 
they use to confirme the bargain with scales or with some signe or memorial, that 
when they forget the bargain, or deny it, or goe about to breake it, it may be said 
to them, this is your hand and scale, the thing is done, you have past it, it cannot 
be recalled. 

He who has put his hand to the bargain of grace seals his consent by 
taking the Communion, which thereafter is a witness against his defalca- 
tions. By thus eschewing the efficacy of the sermon, the sacraments ac- 
quired a new curiously enough, a more compelling power over the 
saints, "Presenting that to the eye, which the Gospel presents to the eare." 
The Supper was no longer a miracle, but still more marvelously had be- 
come a platform of "security" whereon God and His creature could meet, 
knowing what to expect from each other. Upon both was the covenant 
binding; hence this seal "that gives Title to the thing, that conveyes the 
thing to us, that binds the owner perpetually to the performance of the 

Administering the Lord's Supper according to this philosophy was emi- 
nently feasible* "Those only ought to be admitted to partake of the Lords 
Supper, who doe hold forth Repentance and Faith, with an ability to exam- 
ine themselves and discern the Lords body." Being founded "not for Re- 
generation, but for nounshment and confirmation," it could nourish those 
alone who possessed the spiritual stomach. Only adult believers might ap- 
proach the table without profanation, and lest the others heap curses upon 
themselves (and the land) , churches should keep them off and the civil arm 
restrain them. 

At first sight, the practice of baptism seemed entirely similar. When 
Parson Eliot converted an Indian, he would baptize him, then let him con- 
fess once more, then admit him to the Supper. An adult unbeliever had the 
steps to the temple cut out for him : he would undergo preparation, humilia- 
tion, exultation, and sanctification ; when he had run that gamut and pro- 
fessed his faith, when the minister was satisfied of his sincerity, he would be 
baptized; he would then swear to the covenant of the church, be given the 
right hand of fellowship, and finally awarded the accolade, admission to the 

The next question which had arisen in the earliest drafts of the polity 


was whether baptism should, like the Supper, be reserved for adult pro- 
fessors. Was this not the inescapable consequence of federal thinking" 3 
There were several in England who felt that it was, who then decned in- 
fant baptism, and acquired the dreaded name of Anabaptists. Often they 
proved to be Antmomians, or worse; always they were enthusiasts and 
perfectionists. The founders had no intention that Congregational doctime 
should become so perverted, and, convinced that Christ suffered little chil- 
dren to come unto Him, were determined to practice infant baptism. But 
if they also held that a sacrament does no more than confirm a faith already 
attained, if they asserted that he who receives it without having first experi- 
enced regeneration confirms not faith but his own damnation, how could 
they baptize an infant whose mewling and puking m his mother's arms were 
the sole expression he could give of his living hope? 

They were certain that Christ commanded them to baptize the child, but 
unfortunately the New Testament was not too explicit, and interpretation 
required the help of logic. "This proving of things by Consequence," Cot- 
ton Mather was to sigh, "rnethmks, is not so Satisfactory." Mere logic, try- 
ing to extract the warrant out of Scripture, encountered the gravest ob- 
stacles, as Presbyterians were to learn when in the 1640's they confronted 
a monstrous outbreak of Anabaptism, but federalist theologians had what 
seemed a tremendous advantage: they had something upon which logic 
could hang. The covenant made a rational framework within which the 
baptism of infants became the inescapable conclusion of an invincible syl- 

If any chapter of the inspired text might be said to be more important 
than the others, in federalist eyes Genesis 17 was the one, for there God 
explicitly promised Himself not merely to Abraham but to the "seed," to 
Isaac and Jacob and Joseph: "And I will establish my covenant between 
me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting 
covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Had God 
picked, here and there, this man or another, He would have recruited the 
Covenant of Grace, but humanity would have gained nothing more than 
a naked decree , but in stooping to the capacities of man, which He did by 
offering grace in the form of a covenant, the federal Jehovah also gave 
mankind something more predictable: He adopted both the saint and the 
progeny still unconceived in the saint's loins, taking in the children by ex- 
tending absolute forgiveness through the line of generation. "Behold, my 
covenant is with thee, and thou shall be a father of many nations." This was 
the "pedagogic" of the Old Testament, which the New did not repeal but 
reaffirm, and the covenant made with Abraham is "in substance" that for 
which Christ served as mediator, that into which the children of New 
England were received. 

This ingenious not to say human doctrine is the essence of the federal 
system; fully worked out by the English architects, it needed little addition 
by New England disciples. "The covenant in which the faithful are now 


contained," wrote Ames, "is the same with that covenant which was made 
with Abraham," and as that "did expressly extend unto Infants," so does 
this. Peter Bulkeley argued it thus. "If both these things be true, first that 
the old and new Covenant be m substance the same; and secondly, that 
children are within the new, as they were within the old, then there can 
be no sufficient reason, to deprive children of the seal of the Covenant 
now." Those who deny that the covenant extends unbioken even through 
the long night of Anti-Christ and superstition from Palestine to Boston 
would, said Cotton, "leave no more grace to the children of believers then 
of Pagans," and New Englanders were certainly not going to permit that' 
However, the New Testament had introduced a slight but reasonable 
alteration in the admmistrarion, although not in the substance, of the cove- 
nant. Abraham had been father not only of a family but of a nation, and 
his progeny constituted a "national" church, its boundaries coincident with 
a territory; but after Christ, churches must be "Congregational," founded 
on covenant and their limits determined not by geography but by profes- 
sion. This modification of "mode" did not break continuity, but it did 
change the form of the sacrament. Since God treated with Abraham not 
only as first in the church "but as a Father of many nations, and as a 
multitude vertually," He gave him circumcision "for the visible signe and 
seal of it." After the Jews were cast out, and "we and our children were 
engrafted into their roome and estate," baptism was substituted for the na- 
tional rite. It seals the same covenant, and so the first remains a "com- 
munum persona," pledging, like Abraham, his progeny as well as himself. 
"The Covenant now under Christ," ran the finished argument, "is the 
same with that before Christ, with Abraham and his posterity m the flesh 
Therefore as Infants were then in the Covenant, and signed with circum- 
cision, so are Infants now in the covenant, are to receive baptisme the signe 
thereof." This argument, "drawn from Circumcision to Baptisme," said 
Bulkeley, "will stand against all the batteries which are made against it" 
which was the sort of argument the New England mind prized above gold 
and rubies. 

Even in the seventeenth century there were critics who accused Congre- 
gationalism of a species of spiritual snobbery: their children were holier than 
others because they chose the right parents. The theorists answered that 
this was not true; the children would not receive favor because of their 
parentage for "generation does not convey grace" but because of the 
Covenant of Grace: "God hath engaged himself to doe good unto them, 
when they are propagated by vertue of the covenant." Bulkeley explained 
the mechanism in detail: the fathers take hold of the Covenant of Grace 
but it "takes hold of their seed after them." The original convert must be 
an adult, but his children, and their children, can be baptized in infancy, 
not because they "are first converted, and so come under the Covenant, but 
are first under the Covenant, and so come to be converted." God does riot 
say to Abraham, "You must bee, or are circumcised, and therefore I will 


bee your God," but rather, "I will be a God to thee and thy seed, there- 
fore thou and they shall be circumcised" and so they, a thousand years 
or a hundred generations later, are still as Abraham was. And therefore 
New England children were baptized. 

Other Calvmists, notably the Presbyterians, were obliged to baptize in- 
discriminately because they had no method for discriminating; besides, 
all children, including those of saints, were conceived in sin. The Congre- 
gational notion, the Presbyterians declared, was a cruel deception, pre- 
tending to bestow sacraments only upon saints and so putting upon inar- 
ticulate children an insupportable burden. There was so much force in 
the objection that a few Congregationalists, especially Thomas Hooker, 
were troubled by it: he ingenuously confessed that he longed to baptize all 
babies he could lay his hands on: "I shall nakedly professe, that if I should 
have given way to my affection, or followed that which suits my secret 
desire and inclination, I could willingly have wished, that the scale might 
have been cast upon the affirmative part, and that such persons (many 
whereof we hope are godly) might enjoy all such privileges, which might 
be useful and helpfull to them and theirs." But the New England mind 
was guided in the first generation not by utility and humamtarianism but 
by logic: one insurmountable consideration deterred Hooker from his in- 
clination, the dialectic of the covenant. "After all the stones I have turned, 
and the thoughts that I have spent in this kinde," he could find no way 
around "the nature and truth of Chmch-Covenant, in which I must pro- 
fesse freely, I am yet more confirmed, as I have been constrained to take 
it into more serious consideration." No federalist could baptize children 
of the unfederated, and Richard Mather proclaimed the solidarity of these 
colonies on the basis of the baptismal covenant: "We do not believe that 
Baptisme doth make men Members of the Church, nor that it is to be 
Administered to them that are without the Church, as the way and meanes 
to bnng them in, but to them that are within the Church, as a scale to 
confirme the Covenant of God unto them." 

The Congregational system embodied, as we have seen, the principle 
of voluntarism, but it was not what we should call liberal; instead, it re- 
quired rigid subjection to the logically defined and authoritatively stated 
good, just, and honest. In its theory of baptism consent and authority 
seemed perfectly harmonized, and children were taken into the church not 
as inert lumps but as intelligent beings. At the moment they did not know 
what they were doing, but someday they would; now they were "capable," 
later they would become "able." Because they were "fideles" they were 
also "rationalls," and so could be treated in advance as responsible agents 
in their very childhood be held amenable to ecclesiastical censures' Cot- 
ton was so keen upon this point that he came as near to sentimentality as a 
Puritan could come: children of the covenant are capable of gracious acts 
"sooner then we discern," and even in their cradles, "something they have 
in their hearts which pleaseth them, though they know not what it is," 


which they express "in their silent thoughts." What thoughts the children 
of non-members have Cotton did not inquire, but let himself be persuaded 
that these particular ones were "professors of ye Faith parentally, as well 
as personally." Upon others, church discipline would be wasted, but these 
could be instructed and admonished. 

A few years after 1640, the New England Way, to its consternation, 
found itself accused in England not only of inspiring a rage for perfection 
but of stimulating a sacramental doctrine that inevitably resulted in an 
increase of Anabaptism. According to Presbyterian accounts, the Independ- 
ents said, "No Children but of members confederate in the Church-Cove- 
nant with a particular Church," and the Anabaptists said no children at all 
"because they are not confederate, nor capable of the Covenant of the 
Gospel"; assuredly, the Presbyterians concluded, "the difference is not 
great." As long as both insisted that the baptized must be real converts 
in order to be church members, it made little difference at what age the 
ceremony was enacted. The colonial clergy advertised that they would 
not "put the seal to a blank" ; it seemed to Rutherford that therefore they 
must either give up baptizing children or else "with monstrous charity they 
must believe all baptized Infants are regenerate." It was really a mon- 
strous dilemma, arising out of the infatuated notion that the church can 
discern between regeneration and reprobation, which was a presumptuous 
usurpation of the will of God and everybody in Christendom knew what 
that delusion signified. 

New Englanders answered that they were not Anabaptists, and outdid 
the Presbyterians in expressing their detestation of the heresy, sublimely 
assuring themselves that if infant baptism could be made good by deduc- 
tion from God's Word, then it was securely founded. But were they really 
so "monstrous" as to presume that they could tell which of the silent in- 
fants were saved and which were not? The founders left at least a little 
leeway; they would say, if pressed, that a baptized child was presumably 
a saint, but that he could not be publicly recognized until he made a pro- 
fession. Baptism did not give a right to the Supper: experience must (as it 
would) intervene. This, Richard Mather explained, was Congregational- 
ism's guard against Anabaptism: children born when their parents are 
church members are in covenant with God from their birth, but not- 
withstanding their "Birthright," they must make a personal profession 
when they come of years, "for without this it cannot so well be discerned, 
what fitness is in them for the Lords Table." New England's chanty was 
great but not monstrous, and a child of the church could turn out a sinner. 
"Ordinarily" he would not. The first command was that the church be a 
communion of saints; it could not, said Cotton, "be thought unreasonable" 
to require the baptized to make such a statement as "others made in the 
Primitive times before Baptism." Here was the positive guarantee against 
degeneracy: as long as children were baptized, a supply of converts would 
continue; but if the children were severely tested, only those among them 


truly regenerated (along with a negligible number of hypocrites) would 
administer those ordinances upon which the life of the community depended. 

And then, just when the Presbyterian attack was most threatening, the 
founders began to realize that their children were not living up to the ex- 
pectation. Not that they committed flagrant sins, but the grace, amid their 
faithful callings, was not forthcoming. They wanted to renew their bap- 
tismal covenants but they could not: "They could not come up to that 
experimental account of their own regeneration, which would sufficiently 
embolden their access to the other sacrament." By 1645 a hornble pros- 
pect opened: the churches of New England would be .filled with baptized 
adults, virtuous in the extreme, who stolidly lacked the rudiments of even 
visible holiness. 

Also, holy or not, they went on propagating: should these grandchildren 
be baptized? In 1643 Richard Mather told a Presbyterian cntic that these 
were not received, for to go one degree beyond the next parents, "we see 
not but we may go two, and if two, why not . . . 1000?" In 1645 he 
took that back, bethinking himself, in the face of diminishing churches, that 
the Covenant of Grace is eternal and so must extend through the genera- 
tions to all progeny who have not, by sins of commission, annulled it. "I con- 
ceive this needs not to hinder their Infants from Baptisme so long as they, 
I mean the Parents, do neither renounce the Covenant, nor doth the 
Church see Cause to Cast them out from the same." 

But some in New England quickly regarded such logic as a betrayal of 
the city on a hill, and wrote back to England; Presbyterians exulted at this 
news of divided counsel. The system pretended to admit none but saints 
will the clergy then "excommunicate all persons out of their church that 
live without scandall, and yet are not convincingly gracious?" But if they 
retained the children and grandchildren, will they not have to embrace the 
doctrine of "baptismall regeneration" ? And if they cut them off, will they 
not have to acknowledge that saints do not persevere, "for our brethren 
tell us, it is not lawfull to put a scale upon a blank"? New England had 
walked into a trap; could it get out? 

In the spring of 1646, a Presbytenan triumph in England seemed as- 
sured; the General Court of Massachusetts had to take action, and on 
May 22 summoned ministers' from all the colonies (except, of course, Rhode 
Island') to meet in a synod and to settle the problem. It cost the magis- 
trates much to let the world know of internal differences, but they had no 
choice. Most churches, the General Court complained, baptize only chil- 
dren whose nearest parents, or at least one of them, are in full communion, 
but some accept grandchildren, skipping the intermediate generation; others 
now question the entire doctrine, while a few most shocking to relate 
"doe thmke that whatsoeuer be ye state of ye parents, baptisme ought not 
to be dispensed to any infants whatsoeuer." It was just as bad in Con- 
necticut : "We are at a Loss in our parts about members of Children being 
received into Communion," wrote Henry Smith from Wethersfield, re- 


porting that they were applying themselves to a renewed scrutiny of 
Genesis 17. 

The Synod failed abysmally. It did indeed, in its third meeting of 1648, 
complete The Cambridge Platform, which seemed a mighty vindication of 
the New England Way, but on baptism it shamefully hedged. Richard 
Mather arrived with a prepared clause extending baptism to all children 
born in the church whose parents were not openly scandalous, and ran 
head-on into furious opposition led by Charles Chauncy. Oliver Cromwell 
saved the Synod by turning the Presbyterians out cf power, but he left 
New England alone with its gnawing problem. The clergy invented the 
stratagem of pretending there was no problem, and let the Platform say 
that members are to be visible saints, along with "the children of such, 
who are holy"; but they said nothing for they dared not about those 
children who had proved unable to profess, and less than nothing about 
the children of such children. Their cowardice is the first evidence that 
they had encountered in America an unexpected experience, and because 
of it had become something other than the men who in 1630 left Eng- 
land armed with an infallible prospectus. 

However, apologists for the inclusion of the grandchildren could argue 
that they were only drawing upon the prophets of Congregationalism. 
William Ames had specifically insisted that baptized children are "in the 
Covenant of Grace by externall profession," not because the faith of their 
parents was necessarily sound. Indeed, they might well be hypocrites; yet 
the seal, being applied only to externals, was still valid, and the children 
retained their membership as long as there were no public violations: "It 
crosseth the nature of all Covenants in the world, for to dissolve the Cove- 
nant without the Consent of the other." With this warrant in hand, Cotton 
most vigorously refused to rest upon the generalities of the Platform; hav- 
ing bowed to the will of the majority in 1638 and conceded that exter- 
nality was enough for external purposes, he now went the whole way and 
declared that while God takes an elect seed into the Covenant of Grace 
without reservations or qualifications, "the carnall and unfaithfull seed he 
taketh them also into his Covenant of Grace, yet giveth them not the sure 
and saving mercies thereof, but the common graces onely, and the outward 
dispensation of the Covenant." As for grandchildren well, grace might 
skip a generation: though the church be corrupt and the parents also, yet 
"the Faithfulness of God who keepeth Covenant and mercy to thousands, 
supplies the effect of the Faith of the next Parents, and maketh good his 
Covenant to the Children of their former Ancestors in Elder Age." Bap- 
tized children, their legal title clear, belong to the church "though destitute 
of spirituall grace," and so may present their progeny. 

One is tempted to read into Cotton a wry determination to let external- 
ists have the best of it. Even Thomas Shepard, who never wavered against 
the Antinommns, let a note of disillusion enter his defense : "What Churches 
we may have of these, even heaps of hypocrites and prophane persons!" 


But being a good soldier, he did not shrink from even such bitter conse- 
quences, we need not worry, he said, "for suppose all these, yet God may 
take them into outward Covenant (which is sufficient to make them the 
Church-Seed, or Members of the Church) although he doth not receive 
them into inward Covenant, in bestowing upon them saving Grace, or 
power to profitt, nay though they degenerate, and grow very corrupt 
afterward." Dr. Holmes grossly misrepresented the New England system 
in his allegory of the Deacon's One Hoss Shay, for he comprehended little 
about the connection of ideas and society. Originally, indeed, the vehicle 
was designed to be as strong in every part as in all, but when the Deacon 
attempted to enlarge it so as to carry his grandchildren to the meeting- 
house, a few joints had to be altered; a few hand-hewn additions had to 
be made, and the whole did not go to pieces all at once, as bubbles do when 
they burst, but bit by bit. Twenty years after the Great Migration, re- 
sponsible spokesmen for the city upon a hill were already reconciling it to 
perpetuation by a succession of formal and possibly hypocritical generations. 
By 1654, Henry Dunster, worried over that prospect, came to the con- 
clusion that no children ought to be baptized; the Boston elders had only 
one argument against him: "soli visibiliter fideles sunt baptizandi." Dun- 
ster's conscience demanded that "fideles" ought to be something more than 
"visibiliter," for which scruple he was deprived of the Presidency of Har- 
vard College a large price to pay for a qualm which the guardians of 
the New England conscience were now ready to call a trifle. 

Most of the founding fathers lived no longer than to suggest the out- 
lines of this solution, but several of them commenced to realize that were 
it employed the theory of the sacrament would need restatement. For chil- 
dren about whom there was doubt, baptism did become at least in a man- 
ner of speaking a "means of conversion." A ngid holding of the first con- 
ception would mean that these persons were doubly damned; hence it was 
no longer sufficient to argue that the grandchildren had a legal title to 
baptism, but it had to be proved of some good to them. 

Puritan theology always regarded baptism as putting the recipient under 
an obligation. If a man finds that, after receiving it, he has no increase 
of faith, Perkins had written, "he may well suspect himselfe, whether he 
did euer repent or not; and thereupon is to use means to come to sound 
faith & repentance." Thus, if not itself exactly a means, it might serve 
as a means toward using the means; it might become, as John Ball said, 
"a spurre and prouocation." In New England, non-members were pre- 
sumed to have paralyzed wills, and upon them no obligation could be 
placed; but a baptized child, even if he appeared deficient, was not quite 
in the same plight. He was "in the Schoole of Christ and in peculiar fel- 
lowship with the other Schollars there"; he would listen carefully to ser- 
mons and so be "sought after by these means." Or, as Hooker put it, bap- 
tized children are kept in the church for "Manuring": God has them "in 
his hands as plants of his embracing in the means of grace." Like the chil- 


dren of the Jews, they remain "the true Olive, that grew not wild." In 
some sense, God stands peculiarly bound to them, as they are to Him. 

For one thing, obviously the parent was committed to educating his chil- 
dren; knowing that nothing was wanting but the youth's consent, "he so 
trains it up, as that it may not fail of its consent in due time." Secondly, 
these children can be told that they have assented: "You have given your 
consent to what God hath done for you in Baptisme, and you desire it 
may for ever stand good in heaven." Others could be exhorted only to 
preparation, but these to full exertion. If a person becomes truly repentant 
years after his initiation, Anabaptists argued, this must show that the sacra- 
ment had been null and void at the time given; not at all, replied New 
England, because while then he may not have received saving faith, the 
rite had obviously proved "profitable" for him as it never could for those 
"not partakers of that grace offered and sealed." Because from the begin- 
ning of time "God ordered all good to be conveyed to us in a way, and 
by virtue of his covenant," the means can hardly reach, not "so much as 
externally," those outside it. Anabaptists would put all children "in an es- 
tate of persons that are without God in the world," but the heirs of the 
church "by this means may be distinguished," and upon them ministers 
could work without giving a second thought to strict predestination. 

"Not," Cotton hastened to add, "that any can come when they will as 
by the power of their own will." Yet if they do not come, they can be 
blamed: "if the receiver hinder and stop the benefit, it is his fault, the 
sacrament is the same." These children, distinguished from those of mere 
townsmen, could be admonished "as they grow up, what a Covenant of 
Grace and Testament of peace it is, which God hath entered into with 
them in Baptisme. and by what promise of gratitude they have likewise 
obliged themselves unto Obedience to God." In his last days, Cotton was 
telling them, "If you can say, you have known some of your ancestors in 
this Covenant, and you have not refused it, but laid claim unto it, when 
you understand your selves, it is a certain signe this Covenant reacheth to 
you." If the obligation excited no positive conversion, it inspired "at least 
to knowledge and outward conformity in divers," which was enough to 
preclude despair "as experience hath proved in New England." 

Thus far along the road the founders themselves had come by about 
1650. For minds like theirs, it was a long journey beset with dangers. 
They had to defend their program against enemies from the outside 
Antinomians, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, and tolerating Independents 
but they could not allow it to collapse from within. They had to maintain 
predestination and limited atonement, to eschew sacramental regeneration, 
and yet find a way in which successive generations in the church might be, 
as Hooker had it, "inserted by a way of nature." In their extension of bap- 
tismal theory, they were endeavoring to preserve the holy church of volun- 
tary participation and of exclusion, and yet adjust it to what experience 
had demonstrated in New England. 





commandment which bids the chosen people increase 

and multiply was most congenial to New Englanders. Despite an appalling 
infant mortality, they begot so many children, who proceeded to beget so 
many more, that within three decades the problem of baptizing them be- 
came critically urgent. Many churches tried to solve it individually by 
extending the privilege, but often, as m Salem, encountered opposition 
within their own congregations. Roxbury in 1653 asked the advice of 
Jonathan Mitchell, already considered the rising hope of the second gen- 
eration, who found himself still "in the dark about it." In 1655 Richard 
Mather needed all his diplomacy to persuade his people that the children 
"were members and that haveinge children, they should have them bap- 
tized if themselves did take hold of their fathers Covenant," but he could 
find no agreement upon what "that takeing hold of Covenant is." Follow- 
ing Congregational custom, Dorchester asked advice from its neighbors 
Dedham had no light, Boston asked time to consider, Roxbury feared an 
onset of "the Corruption of old England which we fled from." 

In 1653 the church of Hartford was riven by one of the most vicious 
quarrels of the century, a quarrel not at first about baptism but about find- 
ing a successor for Hooker; yet quickly the rights of children became 
involved. In May 1656 one faction demanded help from the General 
Court, which got in touch with Massachusetts; that General Court named 
thirteen ministers (taking care to pick both Mather and Chauncy) to 
meet with delegates from Connecticut and New Haven. John Davenport, 
jealously guarding what he considered primitive righteousness, objected 
that a synod "may prove dangerous to ye puntie and peace of these churches 
and colonies." He was persuaded that the Connecticut petitioners aimed at 
so enlarging baptism as to let in newcomers from England without any 
profession. Plymouth also held back; so on June 4, 1657, the thirteen 
Massachusetts divines met in Boston with four from Connecticut in what 
they preferred to call an assembly rather than a synod. 

They drew up a report, undoubtedly written by Richard Mather, copies 
of which were sent to the churches. Increase Mather carried one copy to 
his brother Nathanael in London, where it was published in 1659 under the 
title, A Disputation concerning Church-Members and their Children in 
Answer to XXI Questions. Several churches felt justified by it in proceed- 


ing to baptize grandchildren, but still the report could not be regarded as 
official. By 1660, with Cromwell dead and Charles on his throne, the 
need for colonial unanimity was imperative. On December 31, 1661, 
brushing aside constitutional scruples, the General Court of Mabsachu- 
setts commanded a full-dress synod "to discusse & declare what they shall 
judge to be the mmd of God." For years the legislators had been includ- 
ing, among the causes for humiliation, the plight of the rising generation, 
now they had to know, once and for all, "Who are the subjects of bap- 

Meeting on March 11, 1662, the Synod resumed where that of 1648 
had left off, Charles Chauncy, now President of Harvard, icceiving yeo- 
man support against Richard Mather from Richard's son Increase, just 
returned from England. When the Synod adjourned without result, the 
politicians exerted pressure through what had now become their favorite 
device: a summons to humiliation, "our spirits many ways exercised as to 
events & vnsetled as to trueths of great consequence, the cleernesse of 
judgment being greatly advantageous not only to churches but the good 
of familyes," wherefore prayers should be offered for "the synod now 
shortly to be assembled." Thus prodded, the Synod reconvened on June 1 0, 
to find itself still deadlocked. Before the third session in September, In- 
crease Mather secured, through his brother Eleazar of Northampton, a 
letter from Davenport which he tried to read aloud, but he was squelched. 
Overriding opposition, the majority composed their report and submitted 
it to the General Court on October 8, where Increase Mather also ap- 
peared, prepared to renew the debate. The court had had enough: grudg- 
ingly admitting that dissenters should not be coerced, they ordered publi- 
cation of the document. Mitchell, no longer "in the dark," wrote a preface, 
and it was finally printed at Cambridge, Propositions Concerning the Sub- 
ject of Baptism and Consociation of Churches. 

The Synod of 1637 achieved unity by exiling dissenters, that of 1648 
by evasion, and this of 1662 by the brute force of majority vote; where- 
upon New England discovered, to its consternation, that it had no machin- 
ery for silencing an enfunated minority. "All dissenting," wrote Eleazar 
Mather to John Davenport, "is esteemed intollerable & dissenters are 
accoumpted & charged to be the Breakers of the peace of the churches, 
Adhaerents to the Brownistical notions, & what not." Never one to endure 
aspersions quietly, Charles Chauncy composed an attack upon the Proposi- 
tions, which he entitled Anti-Synodatia Scripta Americana, sent copies of 
both to London, where they were published, proclaiming aloud the shame- 
ful fact that the city on a hill was sundered by dissention over a funda- 
mental tenet. 

In New England the majority commissioned John Allin of Dedham 
to refute Chauncy, but even as he was at work, Increase Mather wrote 
a preface to Davenport's letter and pushed it through the Cambridge 
press as Anottier Essay for Investigation of the Truth. Jonathan Mitchell, 


with the help of Richard Mather, set himself to answering, meanwhile 
sending to the press a posthumous paper of Thomas Shepard's, The 
Church-Membership of Children, thus invoking a great founder against 
Davenport. Mitchell and Richard Mather's booklet, A Defence of the 
Answer and Arguments of the Synod, appeared in 1664, as did Allin's 
Animadversions u$on the Antisynodalia Americana. Nobody can figure 
out how typesetters and equipment m Cambridge kept up with the sched- 
ule, and heaven only knows to what lengths the dispute might have gone 
had not Increase Mather in 1671 gone over to the majority and so 
wrecked the clerical opposition. In 1675 he sealed his conversion by pub- 
lishing an anthology of passages from the founders to prove that they had 
all anticipated the opinion of 1662, The First Principles of New-England, 
as well as his own apology the most able statement for the majority 
A Discourse concerning the Subject of Bapisme, Wherein the present Con- 
troversies . . . are enquired, into. 

These publications, we must remember, were only the public manifesta- 
tions of a dispute which raged for twenty years or more within the churches. 
"O T when," cried Allm, "shall we see Brethren manage such Disputes 
with that Brotherly Love, Ingenuity, and Endeavours to find out the 
Truth, as becometh the Cause of Christ and without such harsh reflec- 
tions upon mens persons'" However, one fact is clear: the minority was 
led by survivors of the first generation, whereas the most active of the 
majority (with the sole exception of Richard Mather) were of the second 
Mitchell, Allm, John Higgmson of Salem (son of the pioneer). With 
the death of Eleazar in 1669 and the defection of Increase, opponents 
of the Synod commanded only a slight following among the younger min- 
isters, while the few die-hards clung precariously to New Haven. 

The year of the Synod was also that of Wiggleswcrth's God ) s Con- 
troversy with New England, after which the jeremiads took shape, so that 
throughout the 1660's and '70's these two topics, baptism and lamentation, 
constitute the intellectual expression of New England. Questions of church 
polity may be, the proponents recognized, of "a lower rank" than those 
of abstract theology, but in these realms the English genius peculiarly 
excelled all other Protestants "which do also at this day exercise the 
most searching thoughts and ablest pens that are amongst us." They did 
not feel, as we may well feel, that they were constricting their energies 
to a pitifully narrow field; in their language, they were assured that they 
were further working out a European generalization in the specific terms 
of an American society. 

The Synod's proposal was quickly dubbed as it still is known, to fame 
and infamy the "Half- Way Covenant." The issue was clear-cut: "The 
children of the parents in question, are either children of the covenant, or 
strangers from the covenant," to which the answer was equally direct, 
that since children and grandchildren are alike within the covenant, all 
should be baptized. The majority could reach such a decision because by 


now they had at hand, in the tripartite philosophy of the national covenant, 
of preparation, and of hypocrisy, a perfected rationale of externality they 
merely extended these criteria to the covenant of the church. In one sense, 
there was nothing "half-way" about the solution, for the infants of bap- 
tized members were declared to be members, and so under "the watch, 
discipline, and government of the Church. 55 But in a more important sense, 
the decision meant not half a way but a double way: the external and in- 
ternal covenants, the covenant of the church and the Covenant of Grace, 
being now so drastically separated, were separately hypostatized. 

Even so, the two could not be entirely divorced. Advocates of half-way 
paid the sort of tnbute which external must always render to internal by 
requiring that a baptized but unconverted child, upon becoming an adult 
parent and presenting his own child for baptism, must publicly profess his 
assent to the covenant made in his own infancy, must solemnly renew 
his allegiance, not in order to partake of the Supper, but in order that his 
offspring might be externally sealed to the church. 

As Increase Mather 5 s anthology was to show, many of the clergy had 
long been working their way toward this ingenious compromise. The Synod 
gathered up their endeavors, and thus rejected what obviously would have 
been the easiest way out namely, to allow baptized persons of decent con- 
versation merely to have their children received. By obliging these citi- 
zens formally to renew their allegiance even while holding against them 
doubts about their inward conversion, the Synod forced them to go 
through motions theoretically within the compass only of the elect. Against 
this device, opponents bent their fullest energies, persuaded that it was far 
less dangerous to baptize grandchildren than to accept as a token payment 
from the children an act which could not possibly be meaningful. 

It is hard, Mitchell grieved, "to fmde and keep the right middle way of 
Truth in these things, 55 but the alternatives, said Allm, were "an over- 
loose Dispensation 5 ' or "the Rocks of Rigid Separation, Anabaptism, and 
the like." Actually, there can be no doubt about the motive, which Cotton 
Mather blurts out: "The good old generation could not, without many un- 
comfortable apprehensions, behold their offspring excluded from the bap- 
tism of Christianity. 5 ' Or, as Allin put it, we did not come to New Eng- 
land to leave our posterity "at a loose end without the Discipline of 
Christ. 5 ' We have all agreed that baptized children receive, so far as we 
know, only "Foederal Holiness," but if that endures no longer than their 
youth, how can church discipline "reform such great, many, and prevail- 
ing corruptions of Youth?' 5 How indeed, unless the youth should renew 
their federal compact? And what greater instrument of compulsion could 
be imagined than concern for their children? To neglect this "means" 
as Cotton Mather was later to explain "would quickly abandon the big- 
gest part of our country unto heathenism." In these terms, one may say 
that the Half- Way Covenant was an effort to salvage the imported civiliza- 
tion in an American setting. 


However, there was one obstacle to be overcome, a chronic difficulty for 
the American mind. Puntans did not believe in "tradition," which they 
identified with Popish "superstition"; but on the other hand, they did 
believe that the founders had been inspired men, and the second genera- 
tion the Harvard-educated were as uncomfortable under the charge of 
deviation from the founders as members of the Supreme Court of the 
United States accused of flaunting the fathers of the Constitution. Hence 
we may perceive in these technical disputes an early exemplification of a 
basic pattern in American thought, a struggle with self-imposed limita- 
tion. The insurgents, even though a majority, had to justify themselves 
by pleading that innovation was not innovation: "this is onely a progress 
in practising according thereunto, as the encrease of the Churches doeth 
require." America is not so much promise as fulfillment; but the criterion 
of accomplishment constantly becomes something different from the first 
formulation. "It is the way of Christ in the Gospel," said Allin, "to set 
up the practice of his Institutions as the necessities of the people call for 

The dissident minority had on their side all of Europe's logic, against 
them all of New England's experience. By standing firm to a strict con- 
struction of imported theory, they wanted to declare these unresponsive 
children "felones de se" automatically excommunicated for failure of 
will. However decently the children conduct themselves, said Davenport, 
"these despise the Church of God." Dismayed already by 'the tendencies 
of life in America, the "conservatives" if that be the name for them 
anchored themselves to an uncompromising standard. Philip said to the 
Eunuch, according to Chauncy, "Unlesse thou believest with all thy heart, 
thou mayest not be baptised," and upon this rock he and his colleagues 
would forever found the American churches: "This is all that we contend 
for in persons that are of age." But in the Synod he confronted other con-, 
siderations, which to him seemed irrelevant; many of the delegates, edu- 
cated in America, were "no Logitians," were "unable to answer Syl- 
logisms, and discern Ambiguities," with the result that however clear the 
straight and logical way, they went with the mob, "especially when persons 
that are eminent in place and power, and learning and piety, are so linked 

While still his henchman, Increase Mather reported to Davenport, "You 
may see which way things are like to be carried." But no Puritan society 
could embark upon a novel policy solely and simply out of considerations 
of utility; the majority had to make a case for themselves, exhibiting at 
least some show of consistency with primitive doctrine. However, at every 
point their abstract reasoning runs into the concrete. They insisted, for 
example, that they were safeguarding the essence of Congregationalism by 
inhibiting half-way members from the Lord's Supper and from the privi- 
lege of voting until after a satisfactory profession; the principle of exclu- 
sion was not infringed, because half-way membership was not offered to 


those outside the church, and both the sacraments remained, not instruments 
for regeneration, "but for nourishment and confirmation." Their oppo- 
nents' position, they said, with its "curtailing the covenant," was dangerous 
precisely because it would tempt churches to admit more persons to full 
communion, without adequate testing, in order to extend the baptism; 
thus they would in time become governed by the "unqualified or meanly 
qualified." On the face of it, the Half-Wav Covenant, instead of being 
a concession to worldlmess, purported to be a device for preventing worldly 
children from invading the sanctuary; yet underneath, the real motive was, 
a determination to keep the actual control a monopoly of those who could 
be relied upon. 

Having thus protected the Supper, the Half- Way advocates proceeded 
to exploit that line of thought which denied that Congregationalism aspired 
to perfection. True, they would say, in order to become a full member the 
half-way candidate must hold forth not merely "historical faith" but an 
ability to examine himself "and to discern the Lords body"; on the other 
hand, it is a great mistake "to apply that which is spoken of the saving 
Benefits of the Covenant, to the outward Pnviledges thereof." New Eng- 
land had long since revised its incautious boasts, and no longer pretended 
that even the most convincing profession was an infallible sign of true sal- 
vation; it was at best only a qualification for the external covenant. If, 
then, even visible saints were sanctified only unto externality, where was 
the heresy in retaining their grandchildren in a merely external covenant? 
The issue was not whether the infants had true faith, but whether they 
could be admitted to the church "This sufficeth, though they have no Faith 
or Grace really." 

In other words, then, a metaphysical distinction between the inward 
and outward covenant was fundamental to the advocates' argument; their 
solution demanded that the church covenant be no longer viewed as a direct' 
manifestation of spiritual conversion, but that it be considered entirely on 
a par with the national covenant or the covenant of hypocrites. "Meer 
membership is separable from such ability," declared the Propositions, and 
then revealed the premises of this logic: "as in the children of the Covenant, 
that grow up to years, is too often seen." Where their opponents wanted to 
keep the two dispensations identical, the majority, having learned that the 
outward suffices for civic purposes, were prepared to let the internal look 
after itself. As Richard Mather emphatically put it: 

It is one thing to be in the Covenant and in the Church, in respect of external 
state, and another thing to enjoy all the spiritual and eternal benefits of such a 
relation; and though, this latter be the portion of none but such as come to be truly 
regenerate, yet the other is, and so continues, the right of all that have once had it. 

And a covenant, especially an external one, endures as long as neither 
party specifically denounces it as had been discovered in refined specu- 
lations upon the national covenant. Hence if these children behaved them- 


selves, while we might not say that they were saved, we could say that 
they should not be cut off. Once properly in, a member "cannot be outed, 
till God out him." 

The inner compulsion of the apology js revealed also by frank borrow- 
ings from the logic that protected hypocrites, by an unabashed cry that this 
solution alone could stave off Anabaptism. Allin quoted from Hooker to 
prove that "it is the Interest in the Outward Covenant that giveth right 
to Outward Pnviledges of the Church," and proclaimed this "the Founda- 
tion of the Doctrine of the Synod." The dissenters shrieked that the Synod 
was in effect branding the whole generation as hypocrites and was tamely 
surrendering the city on a hill to dissemblers. But by now New England 
had become inured to that prospect: Mitchell could calmly remark that 
even if these children were no better than hypocrites, what of it? "May 
not such as come into the Church by the fairest Profession of Faith, prove 
so vile also?" Meanwhile, was it not evident that the rigidity of their 
adversaries' stand would, in practical administration, shut the door against 
all infants whatsoever ? After he had crossed the line, Increase Mather 
looked sadly back upon his former associates: "I find that there is hardly 
an Argument proclaimed against such Inlargement, as is by the Synod 
asserted, but what the Antipaedo-Baptists make use of it to serve their 
turn." The dissenters might object that this sort of pleading was highly 
unfair, that the question should be settled by logic and not by experience, 
but already such men belonged to a former age. 

And then, having come this far, apologists found themselves in posses- 
sion of a delightful reflection: was it, after all, necessary to account these 
children no better than hypocrites' 5 Was it not possible to account them 
as good as anybody? Once the external and internal were so far separated 
that profession was no longer a certain link, then the probabilities that 
those in the external might also be in the internal increased rather than 
diminished. Since .all visible believers are only presumptive believers, why 
not presume for the children? The want of ability, said Richard Mather, 
need not "argue want of the very being of Faith." Granted that there are 
more convincing evidences which churches must demand before admitting 
the baptized to the other sacrament, still, if these persons were christened 
in their minority, if they understand the doctrine and are not scandalous, 
if they solemnly own the covenant of their infancy, "is all this nothing 
for Charity to go upon in accounting them Believers? no, not in the least 
degree?" Surely, Mitchell added no longer hesitating to employ the argu- 
mentum ad hommem the Lord does not make so light a matter of His 
holy covenant as to enter into a solemn pledge with these children, "and 
then let them goe out so easily, or drop off we know not how." It was 
not necessary to expect only the worst from our progeny. Of course, no 
Puritan could yield to downright optimism, and proponents of the Half- 
Way Covenant were, even while arguing for it, threatening dire judg- 
ments upon the entire community; yet, just as the jeremiads do not always 


mean exactly what they seem to mean, so these intellectuals responded to 
the promise of America by venturing to hope that their children might not 
be so bad after all. 

At any rate, there was no necessity to bewail, with John Davenport, 
that the spirit no longer blew toward this posterity and so do nothing. In 
strict theology, a man had to be passive before his regeneration, in the 
ecclesiastical covenant, the more it was externalized the larger became the 
sphere of action. For ecclesiastical purposes, half-way members could be 
treated as enabled, they could be exhorted, censured, or excommunicated. 
They were, as the Propositions stated, "in a state of subjection to the au- 
thoritative teaching of Christ's Ministers, and to the observation of all his 
commandments . . . and therefore in a state of subjection unto Disci- 
pline." The only possible alternative was universal self-distrust: "otherwise 
Irreligion and Apostacy would inevitably break into Churches, and no 
Church-way left by Chnst to prevent or heal the same," which would 
be terrible not only for the corporate health but for the individual, because 
it "would also bring many church -members under that dreadful judge- 
ment of being let alone in their wickedness." For the security, or at least 
the sanity, of believers, who had every reason constantly to reexamine 
their belief, it was necessary that the benefit of the doubt be attributed to 
an earnest but still unconverted posterity. 

Factually speaking, the decision of the Synod was no more than that the 
non-regenerate children of the church were sufficiently m church covenant 
to transmit a like degree of membership to their children. Actually, the root 
of the problem was that the churches, little by little, had become convinced 
there is "no certain, but onely a probable connexion between federal 
Holyness . . . and Salvation." Why not make the best of probabilities? 
How can the Synod's doctrine, cned Mitchell, confirm the unregenerate 
m complacency when they are told, "over and over," that outward advan- 
tages alone are sealed to them, that the saving conditions are sealed merely 
conditionally that is, on condition that they go to work? Especially when 
the work required was of parents upon children? "Should the Church- 
education of your children be by the want of your hearty concurrence, 
rendered either unseizible or ineffectual ... we beseech you to consider 
Eow uncomfortable the account hereof would be another day." In the 
ModelL Wmthrop had said that we professed these actions upon these and 
those ends, that if we do our part, the Lord will signify His acceptance 
by giving us the reward j in the logic of 1662, the gamble was not upon 
whether He would or would not accept our invitation, but upon whether 
we could make good what He had agreed to accept. The difference in 
formulation was more than verbal, for the second opened up a larger field 
for ordinary human endeavor. But, on the other hand, nobody could deny 
that the founders had immensely exerted themselves. 

Chauncy and Davenport could make nothing of a state of grace which 
never became evident. How, they asked, could sheep be separated from 


goats if all sheep look and act like goats? Only one conclusion was pos- 
sible: "The Children in question, are m a state of Neutrality for the pres- 
ent, and such Christ accounts to be against him." If neuters are given 
baptism, why not go the whole way and give them Communion? Could 
the majority not see what they were domg? "It is apparent unto all what 
a corrupt masse of Unbelievers shall by this change throng into the fellow- 
ship of Gods People, and the children of strangers, uncircumcised in heart, 
shall be brought into Gods Sanctuary to pollute it." Why administer 
ecclesiastical censures upon those who will surely not being converts 
disiegard them? 

I have called Chauncy and Davenport as have other historians con- 
servatives. The term may stand if we comprehend that they clung to what 
had been extreme radicalism in 1630, the principle of regenerate mem- 
bership. Seen in that light, they illustrate the recurrent problem of the 
conservative in America, by older standards the innovation was wrong, 
but they had no alternative program. They were sufficiently aware of the 
facts to agree that the churches should take the children under watch and 
government; whereupon Allin rested his case: "the whole Cause was given 
up in that Proposition." In the preface to his father's book, the younger 
Thomas Shepard showed the folly of the dissenters' notion that a grown 
child becomes felo de se by the eminently practical consideration that this 
would "take away the use of a Ministerial Judge in the Church." Clearly, 
"this frustrates Church-discipline." Conservatism might be, as it often is, 
pure in heart; it was consequently the less capable of coping with realities. 

John Drury spent his life in an effort to unite Protestantism, in the 
course of which he urged the clergy of New England to subordinate their 
private interests to the larger concern. Appeals for participation in world 
government are often countered by localities with an explanation of their 
uniqueness. John Norton (who had been the tutor of Increase Mather) 
was commissioned to reply; his Latin letter, translated into English, was 
also printed by the overburdened Cambridge press in 1664, and was de- 
signed more for home consumption than for Drury. By using Drury as an 
excuse to defend the Synod, Norton added to the defeat of Chauncy and 
Davenport. He said that he and New England welcomed communion 
with Protestant churches of Europe in order to reprove those who, through 
a "preposterous Zeal," are unwilling "to have any of the common Pnvi- 
ledges of the Church of God bestowed upon any, whose effectual Sancti- 
fication may be questioned," thus presenting the Synod of 1662 as the 
Massachusetts contribution to international solidarity' He could even go 
so far farther than any other apologists dared as to say that the great 
line of New England theology, from Perkins and Parker through Preston 
and Ames, was always resolute against "separatists," but that "it came to 
be the fate of these Churches in America, to verge too near them in their 
Primitive Administrations." Thus the Half-Way Covenant became a rec- 
tification of the founders; by endorsing Drury's vision of Protestant unity, 


Norton let fly at those nearer home who, in the local view, seemed the 
threat to concord: he characterized Chauncy and Davenport, so that the 
Protestant world should know them, as those who say that they so "stand 
for Truth, that by too tenacious insisting upon Doctrine, we make no reck- 
oning of the Rights of Society." To behave thus, he continued, "is to be 
carried with the study of Parties, not of the Truth , and to undertake the 
Patronage of an Opinion, rather because it is our own, then because it is 
true." Even after digesting this paragraph, John Davenport would not 
give up his persuasion that truth is truth, but Norton injected openly into 
the debate the premise which informed the whole defense: namely, that 
holding a truth in defiance of the rights of society becomes arrogant self- 

The power of this existential logic was vindicated in the career of In- 
crease Mather. Having fled the Restoration because there was no longer 
in England any prospect of success, he came back prepared to fight for the 
purity of the New England churches, all the more because he knew the 
cause lost in Europe, and so joined Chauncy against his own father. Pos- 
sibly his father persuaded him, but more likely if was Jonathan Mitchell; 
beyond any doubt, a few years of adjustment to the American scene added 
point to Mitchell's arguments. Chauncy made a mistake in trying to fit the 
Synod into the pattern of the jeremiad: he said that after 1662 afflictions 
upon New England increased, to which Allm replied that actually the next 
years were prosperous: "I had thought that Gods gracious answer to the 
Prayers of the Synod of 1662 in sending Rain so speedily and sweetly, 
might not onely have taken of? that Imputation of the Drought unto the 
Synod," but have warned dissenters against applying providences to pri- 
vate ends. Experience, then, and an Americanized sense of the "rights of 
society" did their work on Increase Mather, who transferred his energy 
and his immense common sense to the Covenant, and then out-apologized 
the apologists. The question now became a purely ecclesiastical business: 
"That Faith which giveth right to Baptism . . . as to us is not invisible 
faith. But the visibility of faith is that which we must proceed upon." He 
told his erstwhile allies, "In the way your self and some others go, the 
bigger half of the people in this Country will in a little Time be unbap- 
tized." With the fury that comes only to those who have given up abso- 
lutism, he rent the errors he had upheld: it would be "subversive to Reli- 
gion," it would be "absurd," that a people "of a more reformed temper 
then ordinarily the world hath known . . . should so soon be the body 
of them unbaptized, as if they were not a Christian, but an Heathen 
People." Norton's line became the line of progress; the more delicate 
expositions of Mitchell and Allin were left behind. Mather's argument is 
entirely ad hommem: 

Til ere are many godly Souls in New-England, that the great motive which pre- 
vailed with them to come into this wilderness, was that so they might leave their 
Children under the Government of Christ in his Church . . . Have we for our 


poor Childrens sake in special, left a dear and pleasant Land, and ventured our 
Lives upon the great waters, and encountered with the difficulties and miseries of a 
wilderness, and doth it at last come to this, that they have no more Advantages as to 
any Church care about them, then the Indians and Infidels amongst whom we live? 
O this is sad 1 

In fact, Increase so eloquently and incessantly proclaimed this sadness 
that it became a permanent part of his son's mentality; for Cotton Mather 
the dramatic moment in the story of the Half-Way Covenant was not the 
Synod itself, but that in which Mitchell so worked upon Increase that In- 
crease hailed him both as opponent and conqueror, and applied to him the 
words of Beza upon Calvin: "now he is dead, life is less sweet, and death 
will be less bitter to me." Cotton Mather does not, of course, point out 
that with the death of Mitchell, Increase Mather became the recognized 
leader of New England intelligence; he does manage to make a virtue out 
of his father's change, on the ground that most of the dissenters came m 
time "to see that the rigidity of their former principles had been a failing 
in them." Except for one or two passages of this sort, where the narrative 
required explicitness, Cotton Mather does not confess, what to the careful 
reader is everywhere evident, that the MagnoLia, in addition to being a 
gigantic jeremiad, is a sustained remterpretation of New England's past in 
order to support the decision of 1662, so that his father's tergiversation 
comes out with all the weight of history behind it. 

We should not forget that the issues in this debate arose out of Protes- 
tantism, for which the dilemma is, as Luther said once and for all, that if 
works are sought after as a means to righteousness, they subject man to 
necessity, and so "freedom and faith are destroyed." What man does be- 
cause he is required becomes "this perverse leviathan," from which no man 
can escape, as Ahab could not escape from Moby-Dick. This may give the 
individual a workable scheme of life, but always, when the proposition of 
freedom is confronted with a body politic, it runs up against some things 
that must be enacted and enforced. A people dedicated to God, even 
though made up of dedicated individuals, finds that such a general election 
cannot, in the nature of society, always be effectual; whereupon the hidden 
meaning of the Old Testament begins to appear. Calvin himself had seen 
the problem : "the external call without the internal efficacy of grace, which 
would be sufficient for their preservation, is a kind of medium between 
the rejection of all mankind and the election of the small number of 
believers." There seems to be no way in which the freedom of the indi- 
vidual which consists in doing good as a consequence of faith rather than 
under compulsion can be reconciled with the welfare ot the community 
except by regarding society as something intermediate between the realms 
of sin and of pure salvation. Therefore the code of civic morality ever 
threatens to undermine that freedom upon which Winthrop and his col- 
leagues founded New England. 

Apologists for the Half- Way Covenant stumbled into this problem when 


they attempted to draw an analogy between baptism and circumcision. 
This, of course, was a standard Protestant argument, which Calvin used 
to confute Anabaptists. With the help of the federal theology, New Eng- 
landers were prepared to treat each covenanted church as a miniature tribe 
of chosen people; but instead of circumcising its children, it would baptize 
them. Mitchell thought he was on firm ground when he said that exactly 
as in the Church of Israel, "the Parent might want actual fitness for the 
Passover, by manifold Ceremonial uncleanness, and yet that hindered not 
the Circumcising of the Childe"; just so, the parent's lack of regeneration 
should not prevent his conveying the rite of baptism. Genesis 17 was still 
the authorization: "for so in the Old Testament, this was the ground of 
title to Circumcision." 

"The similitude runs not upon four feet," said Chauncy. A church, he 
insisted, is not a nation; even in their apostasy, the Jews, like New Eng- 
land, might still be the Lord's people, but baptism is limited to believers. 
This cogent argument failed because the majority in New England -had 
in fact come to regard each particular church, with its external adminis- 
tration, as a nation. In the first theorists, m Preston and Ames, the sub- 
stitution of baptism for circumcision was no more than a metaphor, a rhe- 
torical trope, but in Amenca the language of the external covenant 
whether of the nation or of the church became, as it could not in Eu- 
rope, a description of reality. These people were in covenant in order to 
accomplish designated ends; their church covenant was founded upon 
Luther's proposition that regenerated men do good works freely as a 
consequence of faith, not under the necessity of leviathan. Yet it was also 
an assembly of citizens and their progeny for whom the external call, even 
without the internal efficacy of grace, kept them in a peculiar medium be- 
tween reprobation and election. 

Therefore, in the arguments over the Half-Way Covenant there first 
appears a problem which has been with us ever since, and to which the 
New England mind has for three centuries been particularly devoted. The 
nation (or the church) is in external covenant with the divine, whereby 
it is favored above other societies, being punished not by chance but by a 
specific bill of indictment. Successive generations inherit this obligation 
and this favor. What, then, do children and grandchildren do? Does the 
covenant mean a manifest destiny, and do they yield their wills to God, 
letting Him accomplish their fate? If so, they become listless. But do they, 
to avoid this deterioration, take up the burden of the covenant, and fulfill 
its ethical requirements? If so, do they not become enslaved to the levia- 
than of moral necessity? What guarantee do they then have that the favor 
of God will still be theirs? 




critical of, or outraged by, what has been called the 
filio-pietistic school of New England eulogy, in going to the other extreme 
have declared that by resisting the Half-Way Covenant the clergy re- 
vealed "the extent to which liberal opinion had developed among the mass 
of the laymen." In fact, as Hubbard's History understates the business, the 
mass of laymen "were very scrupulous about any innovation," feanng that 
the Covenant would "abate, if not corrupt," the purity of the churches j 
or, as the Magnolia says, although the pastors "were generally principled 
for it," the brethren were "stiffly and fiercely set the other way." If, then, 
the Covenant was "liberalism," the clergy were liberals, while the laity 
fought tooth and nail against this extension of the benefit of baptism. 

The people took up the cry of the clerical minority, accusing advocates 
of apostasy and betrayal; how reckless were their charges, said Mitchell, 
"I had rather they would seriously Consider between the Lord and their 
own Souls, then I go about to determine." The chief insinuation was a 
lust for power: "We have been reflected upon by some as seeking our 
selves, and driving on I know not what design," though to Mitchell it 
seemed obvious, "I cannot readily Imagine, what Self Interest or Self End 
we should be led by in this matter." The masses insisted there was such a 
design, even though most of them, said Increase Mather, "never read the 
Book, much less have they read other things written in defense thereof." 
Perhaps we today may understand better than the unhappy clergy could 
at the time what they were up against, the opposition was an uprising of 
the crowd against the majesty of scholastical learning. 

The real lines of conflict can be seen in Connecticut, where the situation 
was particularly delicate because the new charter, secured by the stall and 
tact of John Winthrop, Jr., in 1662, forcibly united New Haven to Con- 
necticut. In 1666 the Church of Hartford tried to heal its schism by elect- 
ing two ministers, one for each faction; when one of these proclaimed the 
Half -Way Covenant, the other denounced it, and the neighboring churches, 
trying to intervene, found themselves likewise torn. Just at this moment, 
William Pitkin and six inhabitants of Hartford presented a petition to the 
General Court, complaining that though they had been baptized in Eng- 
land, they were not therefore admitted to Connecticut churches and could 
not secure the privilege for their children. Panicky lest this accusation be 


carried to London, the General Court begged the churches to consider 
enlarging church covenant not only as far as the Synod had proposed but 
so as to include Pitkin. Thereupon the storm really broke. One result 
was that Abraham Pierson of Branford indignantly gathered his flock and 
declaring New England lost beyond hope of recovery started the proc- 
ess of expansion by retreating into the unsullied West, to Newark, in 
New Jersey. 

In desperation, politicians called for a Connecticut synod, meanwhile 
ordering the churches "to suspend all matter controuersall" which was to 
heap fuel on the flames. Opponents contrived that the Commissioners for 
the United Colonies should call for an intercolonial synod hoping for 
support from the stubborn opposition in Massachusetts and Plymouth, but 
the General Court and clergy of Massachusetts refused, fearing a spread 
of Connecticut's disorder. Left to themselves, the Connecticut General 
Court dragooned a committee of ministers into determining how far the 
churches might walk together "notwithstanding some various apprehen- 
sions amonge them in matters of discipline respecting membership and 
baptisme." By an inspiration of fatigue, this body recommended, and in 
May 1669 a wearied legislature voted, to allow both ways. How far, 
by that time, excitement had passed beyond the original and scholastic 
definitions appears in Hartford, where seceders, forming the Second 
Church, decided to institute the Half- Way Covenant, against which they 
had begun their revolt! 

For the original conception of the polity, this compromise, although it 
brought a modicum of peace, spelled a fatal defeat: the Word of God, 
being clear, was supposed capable of clear and unanimous interpretation 
by assemblies of sanctified divines learned in logic and rhetoric. The after- 
math of confusion in Connecticut was sundered churches and rancor, with 
opponents of the Covenant calling it "Presbyterian" and advocates begin- 
ning to wonder if perhaps, after all, Presbyterianism might not better deal 
with anarchic propensities. To the Lords of Trade and Plantations in 
1680, the General Court had sadly to say that, as for their religious com- 
plexion, "some of them [are] strict Congregationall men, others more 
large Congregationall men, and some moderate Presbyterians." The Rev- 
erend Gershom Bulkeley of Wethersfield, who served in the abortive 
synod and later on the committee of ministers, was disgusted; and in 
Northampton, new thoughts began to work in the mind of Solomon Stod- 
dard, summoned in 1669 to succeed Eleazar in a valley reverberating with 
Connecticut's quarrels. 

Bad as all this was, the next stage proved even worse, for controversy 
now flared up in Boston itself. Indeed, considering the principles pro- 
fessed on all sides, there is nowhere in the annals of New England a more 
sordid story than that of the fission of the First Church in 1669. In a 
half-hearted way, the congregation had accepted the Half- Way Cove- 
nant, but in 1668, upon the death of Pastor Wilson, Cotton's colleague, 


the church voted for seventy-year-old John Davenport. He had no busi- 
ness to accept: not only was he old, but his people in New Haven, having 
stood by him, did not want to lose him, and in Congregational theory no 
minister should leave his church unless released. Davenport's motive was 
obvious: he wanted to mount the throne of Cotton and from it condemn 
the Synod of 1662. Anticipating his move, supporters of the Covenant 
demanded to know whether New Haven had really dismissed him; a 
letter was read to the congregation which seemed conclusive, but before 
long it was discovered that the leaders of the church had deliberately sup- 
pressed crucial portions. As Hutchmson later enjoyed remarking, "There 
does not seem to have been that fairness and simplicity in their pro- 
ceedings which the gospel requires." Opponents of Davenport, enraged 
at the deceit, withdrew in anything but a spirit of Christian charity, and 
formed themselves into the Third, or as it ultimately was more familiarly 
known, the Old South Church. 

Congregational theory had never permitted a dissident minority, upon 
any provocation, to walk off by themselves; in moments of parthenogene- 
sis, both doctrine and custom decreed that a "council" of neighboring 
churches should be called. In this case, the seceders, knowing that most 
of the ministers were advocates of the Covenant, called for a council, 
whereupon the First Church defied the entire polity by saying "that to 
grant a Councill tends to overthrow the Congregationall way." Seven- 
teen ministers in the area of Boston gave their blessing to the Third 
Church, and, having discovered how the First had bowdlerized New 
Haven's letter, added msult to injury by testifying "against these deceitful 
and false ways." By this time, there were families in Boston, the city on a 
hill, who no longer spoke to each other. 

Governor Bellingham and two Assistants were of the First Church, 
suspected, in fact, of being the chief falsifiers, a majority of the Deputies 
representing the rank and file of the churches were ardent opponents 
of the Covenant. Seven of the Magistrates were a\owed half-wayers, who 
could not prevent the Deputies from voting in May 1669 that the last 
survivor of the founding clergy should give the election sermon. Daven- 
port told them how he had been one "by whom the Patent, which you 
enjoy, was procured"; wrapping himself in the mantle of this primordial 
authority, he exhorted the General Court to give no help "in such things 
to whom Christ never gave such power," especially not to further "mens 
opinions" even though these be "consented to by the major part of a Topi- 
cal Synod." An ecclesiastical council which accepts such opinions "is an 
abuse of Councils." Then he shot his final bolt: "The Synod in England 
under Prelacy, published Superstitious Ceremonies j against which many 
godly learned Ministers wrote, and were silenced; who are, to this day, 
called, The good Old Nonconformists." 

It was Davenport's last act (he died within a few months)^ but it was 
his most effective, and nearly destroyed New England. Determined to 


show themselves also good old Nonconformists, the Deputies brought in 
a report accusing the Half- Way Covenant of innovation and of provok- 
ing judgments of God upon the land. The majority of Assistants refused 
to concur, but the infatuated Deputies plunged ahead, drawing up another 
paper against the Third Church, charging it and all its supporters with 
usurpation, subversion, turning the garden of Christ into a wilderness, ex- 
tirpation of the Congregational order with being gangrene, infection, 
provoking images of jealousy and causes of divine wrath. To Josiah Flint 
the insensate Deputies seemed possessed by "a spirit of division, persecu- 
tion and oppressing Gods ministers and precious saints" ; let us also remark 
that they were upholding what James Truslow Adams called, assuming 
that they were against it, the "conservative" position ' 

However the clergy managed it, m the winter of 1670-71 they went 
to work upon the country; at the election of May 1671 fourteen Deputies 
(all opponents of the Third Church) were defeated, nineteen (all "safe") 
were reflected, and thirteen new names were chosen (all amenable). This 
seems to have been the first organized campaign in America to elect an 
entire ticket. At least five new representatives of interior towns were actu- 
ally members of the Third Church. When he came to write the Magnolia, 
Cotton Mather acknowledged that New England had indeed been dis- 
figured by violent quarrels, and that one of them, producing the Deputies' 
indictment of the clergy, was the worst; thereupon he turned his face in 
horror away, leaving us to guess at what means the clergy employed 
to pack the General Court with friends of the Half- Way Covenant. 

They wanted their pound of flesh. Presenting the General Court with 
a petition in which they spelled out their triumph, they demanded vindica- 
tion. To the credit of the legislature, the Deputies insisted that their acts 
were not open to question and that they had the right of free debate, but 
then paid their debt: they suppressed previous papers, exonerated the clergy 
of all charges, and voted the Third Church innocent and unjustly calum- 

The censure had called the ministers "the Achan, the chiefe mcen- 
darjies of wrath & procurers of judgment on the land" , the new General 
Court publicly agreed with the elders "that we doe adhere to the primitive 
ends of our coming hither, reteynmg the sober principles of the Congre- 
gationall way, & the practise of our churches in their present & most 
athlettick constitutions." By clear implication, this was declaring the Half- 
Way Covenant no innovation, and so writing it into the constitution of 
New England. 

In 1671, interestingly enough, Increase Mather also learned to em- 
brace the Covenant; whereafter there was no leader of the opposition, 
which died down, albeit slowly and sullenly. The jeremiads tried to stamp 
out smoldering suspicions. "Truly," said Samuel Torrey in 1674, "it is 
much to be feared, that we shall so long doubt and dispute the Interest 
and Right of such Children, and controvert, and neglect our duty towards 


them, untill the holy Seed will be wholly corrupted." By the last decade 
of the century, Cotton Mather was happy to report that most ministers 
had obtained from their people not only to forbear "all expressions of dis- 
satisfaction at the baptism of such as the synod has declar'd the subjects 
of it, but to concur with them." He brushed aside, as mere frivolity, 
George Keith's assertion that New England, having forgotten inwardness, 
now held that "nothing can constitute a Visible Church, but that which is 
only or merely Visible"; he ended his account of the Half- Way Covenant 
with the conversion of his church, the Second, in 1692. The brethren 
supported it by a vote of twenty to one, but still more gratifyingly, the 
few not yet entirely divested of "anti-synodalian scruples" signified "that 
it should give no uneasiness unto their minds to see the desires of their 
pastor accomplished; which was done accordingly." 

Though the victory of 1671 was smashing, the ministers never relaxed 
their pressure, from which fact we may calculate the doggedness of the 
opposition; they could not completely triumph until practically all second- 
generation antagonists had died off. The implication of Urian Oakes's ser- 
mon to the Artillery Company in 1682 is unmistakable: "Obey there- 
fore such as the Lord Jesus hath set over you in the Lord, if you mean 
to please him." "If the Ministry stand for the government of Christ in 
his Church," asked the younger Shepard, "must they be now Presbyte- 
rian?" In many places, he broadly hinted, "two or three men . . . con- 
tinue to disturb the peace of a whole Congregation." Installed at the Third 
Church as a Half-Way Covenant man, Samuel Willard began his long 
career with dark insinuations against those churches that "exalt them- 
selves above the Civil Magistrate" and so renounce "Consociation." Our 
form of government, he pointed out, "is partly Democraticall" ; hence, if 
it descend toward anarchy, the fault lies "upon the people, especially if 
persons in Office and Place do their endeavour to rectifie and amend them, 
but are overpowered." Oakes's jeremiad of 1673, New-England Pleaded 
Withy frankly exhibits a tension between ministers and people, and is 
haunted by the accusations of 1670. It is a denunciation of demagogues 
who, under the cloak of liberty, would subvert all order; their devices are 
not only the work of "petty politicians and little creeping statesmen," but 
"the very Gunpowder Plot that threatens the destruction of church and 
state." Nothing is more usual for such ambitious men than an affectation 
of "Popularity," of seeming to sympathize with the people and complain- 
ing "of the Defection, Apostacy, and evil Intentions of their Governors": 

Take heed of such Imposters, though Religious in pretence and appearance, Act- 
ing all with a Theatrical Gravity. ... In Popular States the great danger is of a 
Licentious, Factious, Ungovernable Spirit, that kicks and spurns at Authority ; and 
this makes way for Anarchy and Confusion, and that for Tyranny. 

Was this merely rhetoric? Or was there a real crisis in the society? 
If we look ahead to the little book of a distressed layman, published in 


1684, Daniel Denison's Irenicon, we find a clue: opposition to the Half- 
Way Covenant, balked in the General Court, retreated to the towns, and 
carried on the contest within particular churches. In 1630 bishops and 
Presbyterians had predicted that Congregationalism would "moulder away, 
not having, or not acknowledging any way to determine our differences." 
On the record, Denison notes, the four New England Synods had suc- 
ceeded, but in the wake of 1662 grew up a tendency which by the 1680's 
was a serious threat to unity: a faction had arisen among the members who 
contended that "the major vote of the Brethren is conclusive, and makes 
a Church Act, though the Elders consent not." Some even insisted that 
though a majority of the congregation agreed with the minister, his pro- 
posal should not prevail if resisted by "considerable persons." 

Congregational theory assumed having behind it the prestige of learn- 
ing and a European conception of intellectual authority that in a cove- 
nanted church the minister would be, not one among the membership, 
but a separate power, holding a veto upon the people. ("A speaking aris- 
tocracy," Samuel Stone had called it, "in the face of a silent democ- 
racy.") But after the ministers' sweep of the election of 1671 which 
they achieved not so much by aristocratic speaking as by political manage- 
ment they returned to their churches armed with the endorsement of 
the General Court, to find that a core of the membership refused to sur- 
render to a rigged decision. At first these recalcitrants tried to make the 
minister's vote count as only one, but when they found themselves in a 
minority, often a band of only four or five out of some fifty or sixty, they 
demanded the right, because of their standing in the community, to block 
the minister's followers. They threatened to become, in modern terminol- 
ogy, "bosses." The European conception had been that men of influence, 
creditors or employers, would serve as lay elders or deacons, and thus be- 
come meek lieutenants of the educated cleric; now these men were employ- 
ing their power to direct the church behind the parson's back. The democ- 
racy might still be silent, but it was no longer submissive. 

In 1673 Urian Oakes could barely keep himself to the generalities of 
the election sermon, no work of the period leaves a better, or more bit- 
ter, characterization of the boys in the smoke-filled room than does New 
England Pleaded With: 

Many of those Brethren that give out themselves to be the great Assertors of the 
liberties of the Church* that make such tragical complaints of the Prcsbyterial 
Usurpations and Encroachments of their painful, faithful Officers, that op- 
pose them in their Government, and bind their hands that they cannot act ac- 
cording to their Commission from Jesus Christ, under pretence and colour of 
securing the Churches power and priviledge, and liberty. It is but that they may 
grasp all the power in their own Hands and in effect Lord it over Gods Heritage, 
and that the church may in truth and reality be governed by three or four Ruling 
(you may call them, if you please, Presbyterian) Brethren, rather then by the 
Officers that the Holy Ghost hath made Overseers and Rulers. 


We think ahead to Edwards or to Theodore Parker: "Do but open your 
eyes," cned Oakes, "and look about you'" Tell me, he begged the Gen- 
eral Court, whether if in many churches "a few Pragmatical and Loqua- 
cious Men" are not exercising real power, while the constituted authority 
is helpless? And still worse, "many of our Brethren (such is their weak- 
ness, and the power of prejudice) will never come humbly and kindly to 
submit themselves in the Lord to the Government of Jesus Christ in his 
Church, till they have been soundly scratch'd with this Bramble-Govern- 
ment of some aspiring and domineering Brethren." We have not changed 
the form of our polity, but a horrible thing has happened within it; the 
rule of the clergy has become a shadow, "and three or four heady Breth- 
ren lead the Church and rule all." 

It would be rash indeed to call these heady brethren "liberals," or to 
conclude out of hand that the ministers were hypocrites in conceiving 
themselves true champions of the people's liberty. In these extra-legal 
combines of pragmatical politicians Oakes could perceive a more ominous 
form of "Presbytenanism" than that against which the founders had 
fought in England. The new pragmatical would be writ larger than the 
old priest, "there will be an Oppression of the liberties of the people." Let 
them have control, and the criterion for admission would become not sanc- 
tity, not even hypocritical righteousness, but "Adherence to a party, or 
to be a Darling of the Faction." The question, "Who are you for?" 
would become "in reality the only Test and Touchstone of the sufficiency 
of persons for Communion with us in Church Ordinances." 

What the aspiring practitioners of "Bramble-Government" were actu- 
ally up to in 1674 is difficult to say, since we have to make out their move- 
ments through the haze of clerical denunciation. But this much seems evi- 
dent: within the congregations was shaping a struggle for power not so 
much between clergy and laymen as between the European constitution 
(slightly but legitimately modified by the Half -Way Covenant) and the 
impulses of a new society. The inherited, dialectically articulated order 
made no provision for the fact that a man might carry weight in the com- 
munity because he had character, ambition, or property. When strong men 
wanted certain things in the community call them liberal or reactionary 
they found that they had cut across the niceties of scholastic legalism ; 
they also discovered that, despite it, they could get results, not by occupy- 
ing office, but by manipulating the community. 

Were the ministers to stand idly by "whilst power and Government 
hath been fixed in those that should be ruled, and only a liberty to lift 
up their hands left to the Rulers?" What had started as a debate about 
baptizing grandchildren had become a life-and-death struggle between 
those who clung to consistency (even if that required the tenuous logic of 
the Synod for proof) and a newly arisen, American-born tribe of prag- 
maticals who would bow to the parson in public but behind closed doors 
use their power to run the churches according to their own lights. 


Against these major-domos the ministers had only one weapon: such 
authority as still adhered to the designated prophet whose function was 
to summon the populace to repentance. For them, exhortations were 
now more than ever instruments of ascendancy. At which point they 
began to appreciate, as they had not fully realized even in 1662, the ad- 
vantage of the Half- Way Covenant: not only could they call upon all New 
England to submit to the national covenant, but more particularly they 
could thrust upon pragmatical brethren an obligation to walk according to 
their own baptismal covenant the first requirement of which would be a 
cessation of pragmaticalness. Exhortation thus meant more than the incul- 
cation of morality: it was a counterattack upon anti-ministerial sentiment. 
Enshrined in his pulpit, high above the heads of his congregation, the min- 
ister could still press upon the pragmaticals their precommitment to be 
other than they were. He could at least make insurgents squirm. Thanks 
to 1662, the clergy were able not only to impose a duty, but to allocate 
an ability to behave respectfully which aspirants to respectability would find 
difficult to deny. 

Hence the clergy enlarged, expanded, extended the responsibility of 
the baptized. "I tell thee, when God shall come forth to execute his Judg- 
ments upon sinners, thy Church-membership, thy pnviledges shall not save 
thee, God will no more regard thee for all this then if thou wert an Indian ; 
except it be to punish thee the more because thy sins have been greater." 
Faced with this explication, would the most loquacious of pragmaticals (be 
they grandchildren, or, as was soon the case, great-grandchildren) have 
the gall to persist in schemes for usurping prerogatives? By carrying the 
war into the pews, the pulpit won the battle, and, for the moment, shack- 
led the opposition. Increase Mather, as might be expected, was the most 
aggressive : 

Did not our Fathers come hither in hope that they should leave their children 
under the Discipline and Government of the Lord Jesus in his Church? Hath not 
Christ owned the application of solemn publick Admonitions, &c to some of them 
that have been Children of the Church (tho not in full Communion) even so as to 
convert souls thereby ? Why then should disputes about the mode wholly evacuate, 
the Thing, when so much of the welfare of souls and the interest of Christs King- 
dom is concerned therein? 

Granted that most ministerial exhortations were aimed at the shortcomings 
of the faithful; yet we note that the vices which gradually become central 
in these catalogues were those of merchants and land speculators, most of 
whom were pledged to avoid them by a baptismal covenant not of their 
own making, and so we comprehend why the onslaught of the jeremiad 
acquired such vehemence. When children of the covenant fail, this "is 
their own fault in a great measure." To check their arrogance, the threat 
that unless they heeded the warning they would be damned far more ter- 
ribly than all others became the most effective deterrent. 


But could this net of obligation be further extended? Were there not 
pragmaticals outside the covenant who also should be reached? These 
questions determined as would no purely theoretical consideration the 
next step in social evolution. Apologists in 1662 kept up a show of logic 
when extending baptism only to the grandchildren of professing members; 
around 1680 (in some localities even earlier) leaders of the half-way prin- 
ciple found themselves prepared to accept into half-way membership per- 
sons hitherto outside the covenant persons formerly considered unregen- 
erate but who now were ready to make the same acknowledgment of 
obligation as was demanded in an "owning of the covenant." The tenta- 
tive recommendation of Connecticut's General Court, which in 1664 
seemed too shocking even to contemplate, was imperceptibly accepted by 
church after church, until by 1684 the general practice had become to 
receive into half-way status any who were of decent conversation and 
showed a competency of knowledge, who would join the inferior segment 
of the ecclesiastical society in order to gain baptism for their children. 

This was as wrong theoretically as wrong could be; it was a com- 
plete betrayal of the argument of the Synod. As late as 1679 Increase 
Mather was hewing to the old line: the "vein of Election" runs only 
"through the loyns of godly Parents," and although some regenerate par- 
ents have reprobate children, "yet God hath seen meet to cast the line of 
election so, as that generally elect Children are cast upon elect Parents." 
Yet the curious fact is that, while busy denouncing pragmaticals, the clergy 
including those most explicit in protecting the exclusiveness of the Propo- 
sitions found ways to extend a half-way status to many who never had 
been in church covenant at all, who were good citizens, who prized the 
baptism of their children. And all this with little public comment except 
from some such rank and negligible outsider as George Keith! 

Explanation is obvious: the ministers so succeeded, with the charter gov- 
ernment on their side, in browbeating opponents of the Half- Way Cove- 
nant into silence that around 1685 these persons were diverted into other 
enterprises. Meanwhile, the ministers were obliged, despite theological con- 
sistency, to 11 up the churches with obedient citizens, even though they 
had to search for them outside Israel. They have been accused, by nine- 
teenth-century purists, of cheapening the ordinances; actually, they were 
caught in their own logic of the distinction between external and internal, 
and so had no choice but to go all the way with their dialectic of the ex- 
ternal. A volunteer to the half-way congregation, even though he had no 
vote in the church, would be a make-weight in the town meeting against 

Nevertheless, logic was maintained: even by the strictest Congregational 
reasoning, said Mitchell, there is no proving out of the Bible that adults 
"understanding and believing the Doctrine of Faith, and publicly pro- 
fessing the same, not scandalous in life, and solemnly taking hold of the 
Covenant . . . may be denied or debarred from Church-Membership or 


Baptism upon their desire thereof." Of course, he meant only children of 
members: but what upon more mature consideration 1 was to prevent 
this measurement from applying to persons outside the church? 

In 1677 Increase Mather was still steadfastly warning against admis- 
sions to the church and to the Supper of those who could offer no more 
than "an Historical Faith"; in 1702 his son reported that by then (mean- 
ing long since established) the custom of the churches was to receive adults 
"who had never been Baptised in their Infancy, yet are awakened unto a 
Desire after Baptism for Themselves, and come up to the Terms of it, 
giving Rational Hopes, that they have truly Begun to Believe on Christ." 
These may not apprehend themselves fit for the Lord's Supper, but even 
so, "Our Churches do receive These (and the Children of These) unto 
Baptism, and Shut them not out of Doors, because they press not much 
farther than the Porch of Initial Christianity." In the 1660's a cautious, 
logically supported proposal to extend a partial membership to the grand- 
children of the founders excited ferocious opposition; by 1700 the New 
England Way was little bothered with ancient scruples, and was pressing 
visible membership, including the precious rite of baptism, upon all who 
would own the external covenant. 

By the end of the century, therefore, this was roughly the situation in 
almost all communities: there was still, at the theoretical center, the 
"church" consisting either of the children of founders who had fully 
renewed their spiritual covenant and made a profession, or of those who 
had somehow been converted from the outside. Surrounding these was a 
circle of half-way members, already distinguished from the church and 
called the "congregation," consisting either of those who, inheriting their 
position from an ancestral professor, remained content with their baptismal 
obligation in order to gam baptism for their own children, or of those who 
entered directly from the outside through owning the external covenant 
in order to bring their children within the pale. On the outer circumfer- 
ence, surrounding both sorts of members, was the town, consisting of in- 
habitants who had no professing ancestors or who would not make even 
the half-way profession. By the end of the century, these inhabitants, as- 
sembled in town meeting where they voted taxes for the minister's salary, 
were showing an interest in his character and his doctrine, and daring to 
voice their opinion upon the choice of his successor. 

In the town meeting full communicants were definitely a minority, and 
a dwindling one at that. Theoretically they alone should vote admissions or 
censures, or choose a successor, but actually they were helpless. The min- 
isters could win a political victory in 1671, but could not comprehend why 
thereafter hordes were content to remain, and let their children remain, 
half-way members. "All the Priviledges," complained Oakes, "are so 
charged with duty, so clogged and encumbered with service, they set at 
so great a rent of service, and pay so dear (as they think) for their Priv- 
iledges, that they are weary of them." Formerly the "generality" of the 


people were church members, moaned Increase Mather, "but how much 
otherwise is it now?" It was otherwise because to many it seemed enough: 
"if they can but get Baptisme for their Children, (tho they never had any 
right unto it in the sight of God) they look no further." The ministers 
were prisoners of victory: "What," they demanded, "are you afraid of 
being holy, afraid of being happv?" Solomon Stoddard watched this devel- 
opment with increasing disgust, reminding his brethren that in several 
towns scarcely five or six any longer attended the Supper. The Half- 
Way Covenant promised to enlarge the congregation, which is exactly 
what it did at the cost of diminishing the church. 

In their astonishment and their consternation, intellectuals set them- 
selves to reexamming their premises, hoping that in the once logically per- 
fect doctrine they could discern answers to this impossible predicament. 
Empirically consider ed 3 the problem was clearly that the half-way mem- 
bers were not active enough: if you rest upon the security of your parents' 
covenant, Willard said to them, "you are deceived: you may be the natu- 
ral Children of godly Parents, and yet the spiritual Children of the Devil." 
Increase Mather could see, by 1679, that the conversation of the congre- 
gation differed so little from that of the town that men could rightly say, 
"there is nothing in being in Covenant with God, nor is it any mercy to 
be born of parents that fear the Lord." The need was thus designated: 
was there anything in Congregational polity and federal Calvinism that 
could be put to work for exciting the will power of half-way Christians? 

The Synod of 1662 required the half-way member, upon presenting 
his child, to "own the covenant." This, its most contested article, had to 
be redrafted three times: at first the subcommittee said that adults should 
understand the grounds of religion, to which Chauncy objected that such 
an understanding required no knowledge of sin; they then phrased it that 
the parents should exhibit a sense of a need for Christ and a desire for 
Him, which Chauncy still contended could be attested by devils in hell. 
Finally they hit upon what, in the light both of Congregational and fed- 
eral reasoning, seemed the perfect solution: "understanding the Doctrine 
of Faith, and publicly professing their assent thereto . . . and solemnly 
ownmg the Covenant before the Church." This was more than a mere 
understanding of abstractions, more than vague desire: it was explicit assent, 
and it was public exactly those signs of an act of voluntary commitment 
upon which a Congregational church was constructed. This was the very 
heart of federal theology. 

Opponents cried, with Davenport, that such an owning was no more 
than "a Parret-like saying the Doctrine of Faith," but they could never 
deny that it did require a form, even if a ghostly one, of active assent, that 
it took on the nature of an oath administered before witnesses, requiring 
henceforth fulfillment of terms from those who thus acted of themselves. 

If then, fifteen years later, these covenanted children had not sufficiently 
responded to their commitment, how better bestir them to the enterprise 


than by making them renew their renewal? Since they had all done it 
individually when each had come before the church with his infant in 
arms, what was to prevent gathering them all together along with the 
now adult infants upon some stated day of humiliation, and, following a 
jeremiad sermon, require them in unison to repeat what they had already 
said? Would this not reinvigorate the zeal of all, but especially of that por- 
tion of the community which had become a congregation rather than a 

Institutional historians have, it seems to me, failed to appreciate the im- 
portance of that moment in New England's history when renewal of ex- 
ternal covenant ceased to be a particular and individual recitation, when 
it was transformed into a communal chant. Adumbration can be found 
even before 1675, but the agony of King Philip's War made the practice 
general. The Church of Norwich seems to have been the pioneer, where 
on March 22, 1675, Pastor James Fitch got a vote from the congregation 
that all baptized children should be required to "take hold" the covenant 
of their fathers on threat of excommunication. But the action of Plymouth, 
as in the method of thanksgiving, fixed the pattern: at the worst moment 
of the struggle, on July 22, 1676, according to a vote of all the church 
and congregation, the entire body stood up and "did solemnly renew their 
Covenant with God and one another." While Fitch modestly took credit 
for the idea, Increase Mather seized upon it before his father's people at 
Dorchester in March 1677, asserting that "Renewal of Covenant" is "the 
great Duty incumbent on decaying or distressed Churches." What church 
could pretend, even if not altogether decayed, that it was not distressed? 
The two General Courts publicized the method, and the "Reforming 
Synod," faced with the question of what should be done about its catalogue 
of afflictions, answered in the language of Increase Mather. At the second 
session, in May 1680, he was running a fever, but "he forgot his Illness" 
and from the moderator's chair so harried the delegates that in two days 
they published his resolution: "Solemn and explicit Renewal of Covenant 
is a Scripture Expedient for Reformation." It was not enough that on 
days of humiliation an "implicit" renewal be assumed, or that individuals 
perform the oath on particular occasions: there must be a clear and public 
acknowledgment, "that so all the Churches may agree," and such a gen- 
eral awe be laid upon all consciences, even upon hypocrites, "as to enforce 
them unto outward Reformation, and that doth divert temporal Judge- 

Cotton Mather notes that a few churches "from I know not what ob- 
jections" questioned the Scriptural warrant, but most fell rapidly into line. 
Even at New Haven, with the installation in 1685 of James Pierpont, 
Davenport was forgotten. "For us to covenant and ingage the Lord," be- 
came the standard plea, "is the best way in the world to cause designs 
which may be against us to prove abortive." As the design of the Crown 
against the charter became more evident, mass renewals multiplied. They 


had little effect on Crown lawyers, but, once started, they did serve to fill 
needs closer home. For John Preston and the theological founders, one 
consequence o the covenant in federal theology had always been that a 
particular saint, whenever sorely tried, might "for his owne particular" 
renew his covenant, "for I finde," Preston had added, "that in all times 
when the Lord hath stretched forth his hand against a Church and Na- 
tion, that this hath beene required, that they should come and enter into 
a Covenant with God." Throughout the development of this idea, New 
England theorists insisted, as Increase Mather said, that "a work of this 
nature should be done not in our own strength, but humbly depending 
upon Christ, and with all possible seriousness, since it is a most dreadfull 
thing to transact personally with the holy, and infinitely glorious Majesty 
of heaven and earth." Yet in this most "particular" act there was a delib- 
eration and a decision. "Choice," as Samuel Willard remarked, "is a judi- 
cious and voluntary act, it is the act of a cause by Counsel, acting accord- 
ing to the dictates of right reason and freely resting in the conclusion." 
If men were thus to resolve with themselves in order to save themselves 
when the Lord stretched forth His hand upon their nation, with what 
greater effectiveness might the nation itself, assembling all its particulars 
into one common personage, save itself against further judgments by a 
unanimous renewal of the national covenant? 

For a Puritan in the England of Preston's day renewal had been a secret 
means of steeling himself against Laud and Wentworth, but for the 
American community, the question had become, "What is done by a 
People in their Renewing of Covenant?" to which Willard could reply, 
"They doe deliberately chuse God, and strongly oblige themselves to serve 
him." Some might object that when thus obliged to participate, they swore 
the oath not out of conviction but out of conformity; but the act still re- 
mained, said Willard, a voluntary assumption of the obligation: "You 
shall also have this advantage by it, that you shall have it as a perpetual 
monitor, gravely and seriously to advise you of, and excite you to your 
duty, if you do not wilfully or carelessly put it out of your mind." 

Thus renewals of covenant became, in the 1680's, a joyous feature of 
New England life, usually attended, as Cotton Mather proudly relates, by 
"a vast confluence of other neighbours." After a day of fasting and prayer, 
and a sermon on the sins to be repented (the Synod's "catalogue" with 
local additions), came the ecstatic pledge. Some churches permitted only 
communicants to pronounce it, but in most the children of the church were 
also "actively concerned in these transactions." The great thing was that 
there be activity. 

Promoters of these ceremonies still studied Hooker, Shepard, and Stone, 
still recited the definition of a Congregational church as consisting in an 
aristocracy that spoke and a democracy that kept silent. But from conflict, 
dissension, self-distrust and from an urge to hang together, a new phe- 
nomenon emerged. It was utterly unlike anything provided for in the 


original constitution: upon this festive day of renewal (the neighboring 
confluence looking on) the aristocratic minister spoke, but he begged the 
democracy not to remain silent. He was not so much instructing them, he 
wa* presiding (hopefully) over a movement from the ranks, they, rather 
than he, were promising "that they will serve God, and Endeavor to per- 
form whatever his Covenant requires of them." At a renewal of the Sec- 
ond Church, Increase Mather explained that it was not a new covenant 
but a resurrection of the old covenant within which, should any members 
do or speak evil, "one Brother or other would soon help them to see their 
Error.'* On this day the pieacher laid aside the prerogatives of Hooker 
and Cotton, while the congregation took their destiny upon themselves. 
The clergy had won their fight against pragmaticals, or at least forced 
them to recede before the Half- Way Covenant, but they could no longer 
put a king in their pockets. They depended now, though still retaining 
the prestige of learning, not upon a scholastic definition of their place in 
the hierarchy of being, but upon a revived community, upon the ability 
to evoke from year to year an answering chorus. 



starting with the proposition, "the Magistrate hath 
a coactive power to compel the Church to execute the ordinances of 
Christ," the founders aligned themselves with the then universal premise 
of Europe. As a matter of fact, their peculiar ecclesiastical program obliged 
them to give to this thesis a heightened and sharpened prominence. They 
did not want to dissociate themselves from the Protestant Internationale, 
yet in European terms Congregationalism was "radical" (not in our sense 
of "liberal") because it strove to institutionalize salvation by faith in a 
covenanted church from which most of the population were excluded. The 
scheme of "partial dissent" might satisfy metaphysical objections, but the 
fact remained that the civil governments of Massachusetts and Connecti- 
cut aspired to a tighter control than any European duchy or monarchy 
was able (though all tried) to impose. The effort to realize a church of 
pure saints demanded actually an even greater concentration upon the 
political problem than was demanded of those who acceded to the com- 
fortable formula that a region's religion should accord with the sovereign's. 
The attention given in Congregational writings to the external, national 
covenant is a sign of how conscious the founders were that they had to 
justify, not intolerance itself, but the way in which they could be intol- 

By emigrating before 1640, these Englishmen missed a vital chapter in 
English history. The ideals they had come to vindicate in America 
which they did vindicate underwent a drastic overhauling at home. Re- 
currently the mind of America falls into such isolation: axioms brought to 
this country Puritanism, the social contract, Romanticism and here suc- 
cessfully tried out, have, by the time the American experiment is com- 
pleted, ceased to be meaningful in Europe; America is repeatedly left, so 
to speak, with an institution on its hands. 

In this case, New Englanders won the case for the Independent theory 
of 1630j they reported their result at the moment their former colleagues 
repudiated its fundamental contention. The English brethren learned revi- 
sion in an ordeal which Americans could not share just as, let us say, 
they did not share in the Napoleonic struggles, in the slaughter of Verdun, 
or in Nazi concentration camps. By 1648 English Independents had be- 
come greater strangers to The Cambridge Platform than were all those 


enemies against whom New Englanders believed they both waged common 

Being "Independent" in theory, the founders were convinced that the 
dilemma of Protestantism could never be solved so long as all society was 
included m the church; they reconciled faith and power by limiting the 
church to men of the spirit, by entrusting government only to them. These 
chosen leaders had the responsibility, as did every civil power, of restrain- 
ing human depravity through the ordinary regulations, but they also had 
the more positive function of leading (or driving) a whole community 
up the heights of purity. And all this without becoming "perfectionist," 
without letting their feet get of? the ground' The first and foremost re- 
quirement of their program was the suppression of schism and heresy, of all 
distraction, whether natural or spiritual. 

Roger Williams is regarded today as a prophet, and I admire him in- 
ordinately ; still, we need to remember that he repudiated the persecuting 
power of the civil arm not because, like Jefferson, he was religiously indif- 
ferent, but because he took Congregational purity with dreadful literalness. 
He was a perfectionist, saved from dogmatism by his realization that per- 
fection is unattainable; nevertheless, he demanded that saints become so 
holy as to render political regulation superfluous. He became so infatuated 
with justification by faith that he lost the concomitant sense of innate 
depravity. He really had little in common with Cromwell and the New 
Model Army, who came to similar conclusions on different grounds, more 
properly termed "liberal," that they could not keep regiments in the field 
if good troopers were to be cashiered for purely speculative opinions. 

Wherever, in either the seventeenth century or the twentieth, the idea 
appears that government should be concentrated in a select few, a coercive 
imposition upon the majority is inevitable. John Cotton in 1636 made clear 
to Lords Say and Brook that such a principle cuts across conventional 
classifications: none should "be appointed and chosen by the people of God, 
magistrates over them, but men fearing God." Carnal men often have 
useful abilities "gifts" as soldiers, architects, merchants which may be 
employed, "but yet are men not fit to be trusted with place of standing 
power or settled authority." An ability to command troops or to make 
money, although respected in a non-perfectionist order, is not in itself a 
Christian virtue. Even a hereditary title, including the King of England's, 
is not a qualification for church membership; nobles, like cobblers, must 
submit to the test of sainthood. 

Cotton was not arguing democracy, he was bidding for power. The 
noble lords understandably decided not to migrate, but the glory and 
wonder of New England was that, without titled assistance, it maintained 
intolerance. The theorem of rule by men "fit to be trusted" became one 
and the same with orthodox uniformity. To most Protestants, the Congre- 
gational proposals of Ames and Preston had seemed as fantastic as the dic- 
tatorial visions of Karl Marx were to appear to nineteenth-century social- 


ists; but New England proved that a church order composed only of those 
visibly justified could also organize and administer a state. 

Dr. Robert Child was no champion of religious liberty; he was a Pres- 
byterian who calculated, once his petition of 1645 was rejected, upon 
bringing a Presbyterian power into Massachusetts. To the Massachusetts 
authorities, his design was transparent, his complaint that godly men, 
"members of the church of England," were barred from the sacraments 
because "they will not take these churches covenants, for which as yet 
they see no light in Gods word," was an attempt to break the Congrega- 
tional monopoly. He was clever enough to argue that rule by a minority 
was civil tyranny, an invasion of "our due and naturall rights, as freeborne 
subjects of the English nation," that it meant taxation without representa- 
tion and an administration not bound by law, "which is the true interpreter 
of all oathes to all men, whether judge or judged," but he was not a mar- 
tyr for constitutionality; he was using constitutionalism as the weapon of 
a competing interest. New England's order was not based upon a charter 
of rights and liberties; it was founded upon the conviction that only men 
fearing God could and would properly administer rights and liberties. The 
authorities understood all too well Pascal's observation that the art of revo- 
lution consists in upsetting established customs by accusing them of injus- 
tice, in wilfully refusing to see in their revolt "the fact of usurpation." 
Congregationalism was the one society in a Protestant world prepared to 
give short shrift to rebels who cloaked insurrection with a specious legality. 

The General Court did not prevaricate when telling Child that a non- 
member had "all the privfledges of a freeborne English subject," even 
"without right of election of publick officers," or that the only reason 
inhabitants were excluded from citizenship was that, even though they 
might have faith, "they doe not manifest the same by any public profes- 
sion before the church . . . and so it is not knowne that they are thus 
qualified." But as for compelling non-members to attend services and to 
pay rates well, objection to that requirement was obviously an attempt to 
excuse such disgruntled persons "as are tainted with cornipt opinions as 
doe cause them to cast off all publick ordinances of Gods worship." Child's 
attack, in the name of equity, upon exclusion was countered by the doctrine 
of the external, national covenant set forth in the Laws of 1648: 

Wee answer that a subsequent, or implicit consent is of like force in this case, as 
an expresse precedent power: for in putting your persons and estates into the pro- 
tection and way of subsistance held forth and exercised within this Jurisdiction, you 
doe tacitly submit to this Government and to all the wholesome laws thereof, and 
so is the common repute in all nations, and that upon this Maxim: Qui sentit com- 
modum sentire debet et onus. 

The founders did not rationalize a lust for power, but having control, 
they resolved to hold it, and so put together a political theory as fully 
coherent as their ecclesiastical doctrine. It was an intellectual registration 


of that act of will which came to unalterable decision in the Cambridge 
of August 1629. 

"Hence it is," Cotton wrote, "that we plead for this order to be set 
in Civil Affairs, that such a course may be taken as may best secure to 
our selves and our posterities the faithful managing of Civil Government 
for the common welfare of all, as well in the Church as without." Not 
that church members had any peculiar economic or legal advantages, 
should "none have Lots in due proportion with other men, nor the benefit 
of Justice under the Government where they live, but onely Church- 
members," this would indeed be tyranny; the record bears Cotton out 
that these commodities were dispensed without regard to ecclesiastical 
status. However, the doctrine did openly and intentionally hold that not 
only law and order, the distribution of land and enforcement of civil 
peace, but also the spiritual purpose of the community would best be secured 
"when the publick Trust and Power of these matters is committed to such 
men as are most approved to God." Nothing could be more frank. There- 
fore, "that Form of Government wherein the power of Civil Administra- 
tion is denied unto unbelievers, and committed to the Saints, is the best 
Form of Government in a Christian Commonwealth." There was no doubt 
that this "Theocratic," with all its guarantees, empowered the govern- 
ment to say to heretics, as did Winthrop to Anne Hutchinson, "We are 
your judges, and not you ours, and we must compel you to it." 

The shock of the Independents' perfidy did not shake the confidence 
of the regime in the rule of intolerance, but rather hardened its resolution. 
Thereupon colonials acquired a sensitiveness to external criticism entirely 
lacking in the first philosophy; they could not understand the very words 
Henry Vane used to Winthrop: the "exercises and troubles" of the king- 
dom, he said, had taught the Independents forbearance, "which makes me 
hope that, from experience here, it may also be derived to yourselves." 
But how could experience be shipped across the Atlantic? In fact, Vane's 
contention that the example of New England inspired Presbyterians to 
extirpate Congregationalism "from its owne principles and practice" was 
an invitation to colonial authorities to redouble repressive measures. The 
only restraint was a fear lest, if they went too far, Cromwell might inter- 
vene; but when it became clear that he was too much engaged elsewhere, 
and when the contagion of toleration, in the form of Anabaptists and 
Quakers, approached these sacred shores, the regime, led by Endecott 
and Norton, lost all sense of proportion. Williams addressed The Bloudy 
Tenent of Persecution to an English audience which, in 1644, included 
most Independents, but Cotton's reply, The Bloudy Tenent, Washed, 
And made white m the bloud of the Lambe, shows how, by 1647, Ameri- 
can Congregationalists were approaching a state of hysteria because their 
best friends had gone over to Williams' heresy. 

Thus the New England mind was condemned to an even greater stress 
upon doctrinaire intolerance than it had originally intended. The most 


lively contribution was Nathaniel Ward's The Simple Cobler of Aggawam 
in America, also published in 1647, the conscious point of which is that 
American experience had come to mean, or rather remained, something 
different from England's. "I dare take upon me, to be the Herauld of 
New-England so farre, as to proclaime to the world, in the name of our 
Colony, that all Famihsts, Antmomians, Anabaptists, and other Enthusi- 
asts, shall have free Liberty to keep away from us, and such as will come 
to be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better." Precisely because he 
no longer expected the approbation of the world (or at least of that part 
of the world which really mattered), Ward gave all the greater precision 
to his defiance : "Morall Laws, Royall Prerogatives, Popular Liberties, are 
not of Mans making or giving, but Gods: Man is but to measure them out 
by Gods Rule." He then asserted the further corollary that America no 
longer signified a universal but rather a peculiar destiny, "which if mans 
wisdome cannot reach, Mans expenence must mend." 

Other leaders joined the cry: Thomas Shepard, for instance, declared 
toleration "the foundation of all other Errors and Abominations in the 
Churches of God, if it once be attended among any People of God." 
In 1658 Edward Holyoke of Lynn discussed the problem more allegori- 
cally in The Doctrine of Life, representing King Solomon as lecturing the 
Queen of Sheba (after she had given him "all the best content she could") 
that man is by nature a wild colt, "and there is no taming of corrupt na- 
ture but by a strict course of holy Laws, which to a regenerate and godly 
soul is an easy Yoke." Unfortunately, the Queen had "orient eyes, dam- 
aske rosie cheeks," along with "cherry lips, and all festivity and grace of 
speech," being endowed with "what may give a man content (I speak 
simply of man and woman)," with the dreadful result that, the morning 
after, she lured the wisest of men into tolerating paganism. To forestall 
her charms, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered in May 1658 
that no person should be allowed to hold forth in any town where the 
churches, a council of state, or the court themselves disapproved. 

The temptress came to New England, not m the luscious form of 
Sheba's Queen, but in the grimy guise of a handful of Anabaptists, and 
then of a company of Quakers, among whom appeared that same Mary 
Dyer who had walked out of the First Church with Anne Hutchinson. 
The three Anabaptists came to Lynn to comfort a dying colleague, were 
arrested, and arraigned j John Cotton preached a sermon before them, 
proving that by rejecting infant baptism they overthrew all churches, then 
Endecott shrieked at them, and Pastor Wilson struck them. Surprisingly 
enough, sympathizers paid bail for two of them, but Obediah Holmes was 
given thirty lashes with a three-thonged whip. The Baptists further asserted 
that a witness who murmured against this treatment was sent by Endecott 
to jail with the injunction, "we will deal with you as we have dealt with 

One of the three, John Clarke, in 1652 published their story in London 


as III Newes from New England. The Quaker story was similarly broad- 
cast in 1661 (with an appendix in 1667) by George Bishop of Bristol, 
New-England Judged, Not by Man's, but the Sprit of the Lord. Whether 
or not these narratives are accurate assuredly both authors have a sense 
for drama is of less importance than the fact that they made effective 
propaganda against New England. An Anglican Restoration was de- 
lighted to make much of them 5 upon New England, their effect was to 
stiffen the determination to resist by fair means or foul. 

According to Bishop, the means were foul to begin with, and his de- 
scription of Endecott is a masterful portrait of the reactionary driven to 
frenzy by the refusal of history to support him. The Quaker version is 
more fully substantiated by other records. On October 19, 1658, the Court 
promised death to those who returned from banishment, under which law 
William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were led, along with Mary 
Dyer, to the gallows on October 27, 165 9 5 she was reprieved, the authori- 
ties waiting until the last moment to inform her, on condition that her 
husband take her back to Rhode Island. Stevenson and Robinson perished 
in the grand manner of the Book of Martyrs: "for to me to live is Christ, 
and to Dye is Gain; and truly I have a great desire, and will to dye herein, 
knowing that the Lord is with me, whatever Ignorant Men shall be able 
to say against me." After Mary Dyer had voluntarily stood up with Anne 
Hutchinson, she was delivered of a premature fetus (one may understand 
why) j in a Calvinist universe such monstrosities were signs of divine coun- 
sel, and the great Winthrop himself eagerly inquired after the goriest 
details. Despite this early miscarriage, Mary Dyer subsequently produced 
several children of her body, from whom many Americans today have 
descended. Her husband could not restrain her, and she came back, to be 
hanged on June 1, 1660. William Leddra was executed on March 14, 
1661, before an order arrived from King Charles forbidding Massachu- 
setts Bay to kill his subjects. 

"So Death was the Thing ye aimed at, and their Blood ye would have, 
and their Blood ye had," Bishop proclaimed to the same world Nathaniel 
Ward had also addressed. In 1657 Commissioners of the United Colonies 
tried to force Rhode Island (which was not, of course, in the Union) to 
banish Quakers; that colony replied with the curious observation that 
Quakers had proved, when tolerated, to be hostile only against persecutors: 
"Surely we find that they delight to be persecuted by civill powers, and 
when they are soe, they are like to gain more adherents by the conseyte 
of their patient sufferings, than by consent to their pernicious sayings." 
Roger Williams was shocked by the doctrines of George Fox and wrote 
against them, and the colony's authorities assured the Commissioners that 
Quaker teaching did indeed threaten the overturn of all civil government. 
But Rhode Island found itself obliged, by its previous declarations, to toler- 
ate differences of opinion, and so made this astounding discovery. 

For the rest of New England, Quakerism was one more, and apparently 


the most vicious, eruption of perfectionism, which would indeed njullify 
all laws and ordinances: Quakers "have no need to purify themselves dayly, 
as all Christians should, for they are perfectly pure already," Apologists 
for the regime try to defend it on the plea that Quakers did things which, 
as Henry Martyn Dexter said, would invite arrest "even in the brightest 
light of this nineteenth century," as, for example, when Lydia Wardwell 
and Deborah Wilson paraded naked in the streets. Critics answer that 
such gyrations were not so serious as to call for punishment in the form 
of whippings through several towns in midwinter. Both arguments forget 
that there was nothing in the philosophy of the communities enabling them 
to regard these offenses only as disturbances of the peace or indecent expo- 
sures ; they had no way of knowing (neither did Cromwell) that this 
pacific kind of perfectionism was not the old Anabaptism of Munster. 

Only one thing could check the orthodox regime, some brutal imposi- 
tion by an outside force, such as the King's command. The Restoration 
made no sense in any Protestant conception of history; yet there it was, 
"as if," mourned Hull, "when they had now twenty years of conflicting, 
and a great part of them in bloody war, for reformation, they should all 
upon a sudden be sent back again." Within a matter of months New 
England learned that not only "they" in England but they in the colonies 
were caught in the meshes of this reversal. New England faced the prob- 
lem of coming to terms with a universe completely altered from that with 
which the founders had supposed themselves in perfect accord. 

In the election sermon of 1661 John Norton tried to tell the society 
what it had now to attempt: on the one hand, to recollect that it was loyal 
to the Crown ("It is not a Gospel-spirit to be against Kings: 'tis neither 
Gospel nor English Spirit for any of us to be against the Government by 
Kings, Lords and Commons"), and on the other to justify its peculiar 
system. The pressing question will now be "whether the Congregational- 
way be practicable, yea or not?" Here was the dilemma, sharpened beyond 
anything Richard Mather in 1657 had imagined at Dorchester, by its very 
insistence bound to start new lines of thought. 

The first maneuver was inescapable: the General Court professed their 
absolute fidelity, explained their treatment of Quakers, defended their 
seizure of Maine lands, and, for good measure, bethought themselves to 
pass laws enforcing the Navigation Acts. They then asserted their view of 
legality: any government under such a charter as theirs has power over all 
its peoples, "without appeal, excepting law or laws repugnant to the laws 
of England." Less publicly, they instructed their agents to block any sug- 
gestions that colonial laws could be reviewed in London, for this "would 
render authoritie and government vaine and uneffectual, and bring us into 
contempt with all sortes of people." 

As a chapter in intellectual history, this part of the narrative falls short 
of precision for one sufficient reason: the government of Charles II was 
inefficient, dilatory, absent-minded, inconsistent, and in general stupid. For 


two decades it did not press its advantages, did not complete motions it 
inaugurated, kept up a threat it never got around to executing, and so gave 
New England time to adjust piecemeal, allowed die-hards to die, and a fac- 
tion to emerge which, wearying of the dispute, grew into readiness to give 
up the charter. Because King Charles could not keep his mind on colonial 
business, and preferred to chase moths in Lady Castlemame's apartments 
even while the Dutch were in the Medway, let alone while Norton, Ende- 
cott, and Davenport were expiring m New England, he permitted the New 
England mind to struggle through the first and most important stages of 
a mental revolution in splendid isolation. 

Assuredly, had the government struck in 1661 with anything like the 
force Laud had contemplated in 1636-37, American history would be an- 
other story; we owe an incalculable debt to the bungling of English official- 
dom. The situation was ripe for intervention: belated efforts to conform 
to the Navigation Acts, or a sullen leaving off of hanging Quakers (upon 
the first hint of royal indifference, Massachusetts commenced a new benes 
of whippings, some of them almost unto death) were empty gestures. But 
instead, the Crown gave Connecticut a charter in 1662, uniting it with 
New Haven and virtually conceding local sovereignty. To Simon Brad- 
street and John Norton, arrived in London as agents, King Charles in 
that same year graciously gave a letter calling for things he could have 
extracted only by force j by telling them what England would demand if 
it ever mustered enough energy, the letter plainly informed the colonists 
that they might get their way indefinitely if, instead of meeting charges 
head-on, they essayed diplomacy, pious misunderstandings, evasions, and 
half-truths. For two decades thereafter, the conduct of public affairs was 
for New England a thorough schooling in duplicity. This fact has to be 
connected with the flourishing of the jeremiads, with the doctrine of re- 
newal of covenant and the emergence of community revivalism. Time 
gained by ruse and by stratagem was time acquired for institutional evo- 
lution. Not until the end of the century could any in the region even 
commence to comprehend that the long training in protraction undergone 
between 1660 and 1685 imparted to the Puritan mind qualities which it 
had not possessed or at least brought forward some which had hitherto 
been recessive at the foundation. Read with this thought in mind, the 
Magnalia, while seemingly a lament over the decline of New England 
or purportedly an elaborate defense of the Half- Way Covenant, becomes 
a shrewd analysis of intellectual change: "But whether New England 
may Live any where else or no, it must Live in our History!" 

The king's letter of June 28, 1662, while confirming the Massachu- 
setts charter (but saying nothing about appeals), demanded that the Com- 
mon Prayer should not be denied those who desired it, that persons of 
honest lives be admitted to the Lord's Supper, and that freeholders of com- 
petent estates be admitted to citizenship. Nothing could have been more 
grandiloquently pronounced, in utter ignorance of reality. At that very 


moment, King Charles's government was limping along by grace of the 
Clarendon Code, with the result that the great issues among the Dissenters 
were being reduced from a high and mighty clash of absolutes to squalid 
haggling among sects. The royal letter was not, as interpreted in New 
England, an invitation to toleration: it was a bid for Anglican supremacy. 
The New Englanders had no choice but to treat it as such, and to fend 
it off; by doing so, they tacitly demoted themselves from champions of a 
city on the hill to an idiosyncratic congregation, protected merely by dis- 
tance from the confusions of their former brethren. In that case, distance 
became such a bulwark as Scriptural conviction had once been. 

At last, m 1664, when a Royal Commission was on its way under or- 
ders to investigate how far the king's commands had been obeyed, the 
General Court of Massachusetts rushed through a law ostensibly extend- 
ing the suffrage to freeholders who had estates paying a ten-shilling tax 
or to those who presented a certificate from their minister that they were 
oithodox and not scandalous. To which the General Court innocently 
added, "or that they are in full communion with some church among us." 
Since the time of Hooker, the certificate system had been followed in Con- 
necticut; it achieved the same results as Massachusetts' legislation, and 
now enabled the Connecticut General Court to tell the Royal Commis- 
sioners that the franchise was not ecclesiastically limited. The Commission- 
ers quickly discovered that the Massachusetts law was a farce: scarcely 
three in a hundred paid as much as ten shillings, whereas any church mem- 
ber, "though he be a servant and pay not two pence," was a freeman. But 
the General Court were learning audacity: their new law, they said, com- 
plied with the king's request "as farr as doth consist with conscience of our 
duty towards God, and the just liberties and priviledges" of the charter. 

The Synod of 1662 was positive that half-way membership should not 
convey a franchise either in state or church, and for years there was no 
linking of citizenship to the covenant. But shortly after 1665 an awful 
result became evident: because citizenship meant obligation, masses of good 
people found themselves content to stop with the half-way position in order 
to evade it. This was nothing less than a silent revolution worked by pru- 
dence; in the shifting context, citizenship had ceased to be the prized pos- 
session of an elite: it had become an onerous chore. 

Coincident with this discovery there appears the first division within 
New England society that was not a local quarrel (as was Winthrop's 
with the Hingham militia) or a theological issue (like the Antmomian dis- 
pute), but a calculation of policy. An opposition party took shape, at first 
not hostile to the regime itself but composed of such pious citizens as John 
Hull, convinced merely of the folly of opposing English might. These men 
urged, and raised the money for, Norton and Bradstreet's mission in 1662 
against the intransigence of Endecott and Bellmgham; among the sub- 
scribers appear many "new" men, mostly merchants. In 1666, while the 
General Court procrastinated about answering still another royal letter, 


petitions for a more complaisant response came from Boston, Newbury, 
Ipswich, signed by men of substance, frankly confessing that they did not 
want the king angered because of "the interest of their persons and es- 

Thus we perceive the hidden background of the jeremiads. Mitchell's 
Nehenuah on the Wall bemoaned "discontents and divisions" in such 
pointed terms as to make clear that he was striking in 1667 at what had 
already become a party of appeasement: "Yea, there were among them- 
selves that [were] helpers to their Adversaries, and complied with them, 
even some chiefe men . . . Yea, there were some of the Prophets." 
Neither he nor his followers could bring themselves, in public, to name 
names, and therefore the workings of the moderate group remain, to this 
day, obscure. Leaders of the dominant and vocal faction affected to be so 
shocked at the very existence of such persons in Israel as to be without 
words. But the evidence is clear: by 1670 the holy society had become like 
any other society outside the national covenant, sundered into two opinions, 
not over a basic theological or even ecclesiastical question, but over one of 
political expediency. 

For ten years after the Royal Commission, Whitehall left New Eng- 
land alone. Yet in that decade of salutary neglect, the wall of intolerance 
steadily cracked. On May 28, 1665, Thomas Gould of Charlestown, who 
had long suffered doubts about infant baptism, gathered with eight others 
(five of them freemen) to form a Baptist Church; try as they might, the 
authorities could not suppress it. Gould and one of his colleagues were 
imprisoned for nearly a year; a public disputation was held at the First 
Church in April 1668, which was supposed to convince the Baptists, but 
did not; whereupon Gould and his fellows were sentenced to banishment. 
They refused to budge. The old magic that had worked against Antinomi- 
ans, Roger Williams, and Dr. Child was no longer effective. The Gen- 
eral Court had to receive a remonstrance they could not disregard, signed 
by James Oliver, by Edward and Elisha Hutchinson, Usher, Shnmpton. 
Soon came a letter from thirteen of the most respected Nonconformists 
in England telling the General Court what unfortunate effects their action 
would have "at home." In the language of the past, the court tried to ex- 
plain that to allow Gould his church would be to set up a school of seduc- 
tion, to open a door for abominations, "to the disturbance not only of our 
ecclesiastical enjoyments, but also contempt of our civil order & authority 
here established." But news of the outside world kept flowing in: in 1667 
the second part of Bishop's New-England Judged was published, and in 
1672 William Coddington, years ago banished as a partisan of Mrs. 
Hutchinson, sent a letter to Governor Bellingham (that worthy burned it 
unread, but Coddington printed his copy) : "You may as well withold the 
flowing of the Tide into the Massachusetts Bay, as the Workings of the 
God of Truth in the Hearts of his People in the Massachusetts Jurisdic- 
tion, or to limit the holy One to a Company or Tribe of Priests, who make 


a trade of the Scriptures, keeping People alwayes under their Teaching, 
that they may be alwayes paying of them." 

King Charles was, we know, anything but an apostle of toleration, but 
he was working that effect in his dominions beyond the seas. By 1672 
Coddington's letter could not be dismissed as merely the ranting of a 
Rhode Islander; Gould and his Baptists could be neither banished nor 
silenced, but kept their church in being on Noodles Island until Governor 
Leverett, elected m 1673, gave up as a bad job any further attempt to tor- 
ment it. The next year John Hull shook his head in sorrow: "This summer, 
The Anabaptists that were wont to meet at Noodle's Island met at Boston 
on the Lord's Day." Also, he noted, there were now several Quakers 
living unmolested in the town, and most inconceivable some magis- 
trates would "not permit any punishment to be inflicted on heretics as 
such." In 1678 Gould and his brethren built a meeting-house in Boston, 
and, though they had something of a struggle to occupy it, they prevailed. 
Ecclesiastical uniformity was visibly crumbling. Two decades later, Cotton 
Mather told the story of Gould with the utmost distaste for all its aspects, 
and passed over these "contentious matters" as quickly as possible with the 
Magnates summation: "Thanks be to God we have done with them; and 
all the foam wheremto we were chafed by them, is now comfortably wiped 




getting down to business with the Royal Commission 
in 1665, the General Court tried to arouse public opinion with a proclama- 
tion of how much prosperity "hath its dependence, vnder God, vpon the 
benigne aspect of our soueraigne lord the king towards us." After they had, 
by barefaced tactics, thwarted these investigators, they declared exultantly 
that we must all he low before the King of Kings, just as we have been 
casting ourselves at the feet of King Charles "for the continuance of his 
royall favour towards vs, & exerting of it in such a way as may establish 
our all vnto vs in this our time of tryall." Dismissing for the moment the 
myriad afflictions so frequently tabulated, the General Court solicited the 
people to remember that they had been "singularly exempted from his 
sharpened stroaks, wherein so many abroad haue had so deepe & peirsing 
a sense," and in that thought to beseech the Lord to preserve "our sweete 
union." The technique of supplication, addressed either to the King of 
Heaven or the King of England, professed to be an efficient means, by 
exhibiting sorrow for past transgression, of softening a royal demeanor 
toward the community; but it served locally to mobilize energies which, 
in the act of humiliation, would flow into unanimity. 

Meanwhile, as encouragement to those energies, the leaders, both lay 
and clerical, raised the spectre of the bishops, dread ogres of the founders' 
fireside reminiscences. They had to do so without antagonizing the restored 
prelates, but explicitly enough for the people to understand. If you do not 
stop fighting over the Half-Way Covenant, Oakes warned, then "your 
differences will make way for those that will make no difference between 
Synodists and Antisynodists, Old or New-Church men." Against the men- 
ace of such tyranny, there was only one protection: "Keep to your PAT- 
ENT!" Whereupon a subtle shift in emphasis was bound to appear: this 
charter, which had originally signified, as against Anne Hutchinson or 
Dr. Child alike, a "Christian liberty" in the sense of a willing subjection 
to authority, had now to be presented as a bulwark of constitutional liber- 
ties (including the ecclesiastical) against encroaching despotism. "Reced 
from that one way or other, and you will expose your selves (for ought 
I know) to the Wrath of God, and Rage of Man"; by holding firmly to 
it, you will retain "the Liberties and Immunities confered upon you 
therein." In this strength, you "may with good Conscience set your Foot 


against any Foot of Pride and Violence that shall come against you," 
Obliged to gird the people for resistance in order to make the day of 
humiliation an instrument of unification, the preachers were further com- 
pelled to identify the cause of the charter primarily with civil rights; where- 
upon the stress became the reverse of that employed against Dr. Child. 
Were their exhortation heeded, the effect would be, not so much to en- 
courage reformation of sins, but to make anyone who whispered a word 
against the charter an enemy of the people: tc A Mutinous Arrny and a 
Divided People are easily made a prey to their Enemies," a statement for 
which Oakes found proof m Scripture, but more cogently in "Reason 
and Experience." 

To master this argument required skill, because on every public occasion 
the leaders had to protest an absolute and undying allegiance to the Crown, 
and yet m the same, or next, breath, to show that "the Government set- 
led here by the Charter of this Colome is a subordinate Government" 
which provides us not only with the true church order but also those rights 
which had suddenly assumed such vital importance as that of "the people 
here to chuse their own Magistrates." All this made for a complicated pre- 
dicament the "theocrat" was still beholding his vision of a city on the hill 
"I looke upon this as a little model of the Glorious Kingdome of Christ 
on Earth, Chnst Reigns among us in the Commonwealth as well as in the 
Church, and hath his glorious Interest invoked and wrapt up in the good 
of both Societies respectively" but those advantages which wrapt up the 
interest of the secular Commonwealth would rally more persons than 
merely church members to a defense of the model. Thus the ministers 
became progressively victims of their own propaganda as they subordi- 
nated the ecclesiastical cause to the civil. If you quit your liberties, Oxen- 
bridge said in 1671, you will get such magistrates as please neither God 
nor yourselves, "but other men will be your masters, for servants, yea, 
slaves must you be." "This your day of free Election is preforable before 
all your own dayes," Oxenbndge continued^ hardly realizing the impli- 
cations: "There is no such day in other Colonies abroad." Thus, little by 
little those who sought to preserve the charter, by force if necessary, in 
order to save their spiritual administration, came to present it as worth 
fighting for on the grounds of prescriptive rights: "Your civil and your 
religious liberties are so coupled here, that if one be lost the other cannot 
be kept"; yet in order to make the appeal work, they had to put the civil 
before the religious. The elders themselves betrayed the drift when advis- 
ing the General Court of 1672: "It being the great liberty of an English 
subject to be tryed by his peers, before whom he hath free and full libertie 
to plead law for his endempnitie and safety," a reflection that had not fig- 
ured so prominently when men fearing God had dealt with Mrs. Hutchm- 
son, Obediah Holmes, or Robinson and Stevenson. 

But this liberty of an English subject would hardly be worth preserving 
if, by maintaining it, New England lost its own spiritual administration. 


Loyalty had to be aroused to the privileges of the charter, under which the 
regime had been able to execute, or at least not to tolerate, Baptists and 
Quakers. As Higginson said, even as he warned the merchants who in- 
creased cent per cent, the cause of New England is "Not a toleration of 
all Religions, or of the Heresies & Idolatries of the age we live in," for 
what is contrary to the Gospel "hath no right, and therefore should have 
no liberty." Because there is, or is professed to be, trial by jury, the laws 
therefore profess subjection to the Gospel which means "your non-tolera- 
tion of that which is contrary thereunto; this will be a name and a glory 
to New England so long as the Sun and Moon endure." 

Year by year, election sermons show an increasing confusion. Stoughton 
in 1668 confessed that the problem was full of knots and intricacies, but 
pulled himself up with the certainty that "true Christian Gospel-Liberty, 
was never unto this day a Womb big with Licentiousness." The connota- 
tions (and soon the denotation) of liberty shifted with every utterance: 
in 1671 Oxenbridge, comparing the uniformity which bishops would impose 
with Congregational discipline, went so far as to wish that "forbearance 
may be exercised to all sober people, so it be not against piety or peace," 
but had to note in the printed text that this passage "did not sound well in 
the ears of two or three persons whom I honour." The next year, the 
younger Shepard pleased those persons better by saying that the Lord had 
blessed exercises qf coercive power in New England by crushing "in the 
very Egg" what would have become a brood of "poysonful, fiery, stinging 
Serpents." Yet, he had to observe, many are now saying "this is but perse- 
cution, and better let all alone, these things will dye of themselves." The 
more, as we have noted, a vice is denounced in the jeremiad, the more we 
assume it prevalent; hence Shepard tells us much by distinguishing, as one 
sign of perilous times, the fact that the "swaying part among a professing 
people" could see charms in "such a Syncretisme in Religion as takes in all 
perswasions (without regard to that spiritual chastity and virgin spirit, 
which . . . ought to be in all true followers of the Lamb)." 

Preachers of the 1670's and '80's their brains working as hard as had 
their fathers' when first devising the church covenant wove together, 
into one conglomerate appeal, fear of bishops and political tyranny, an 
identification of liberty with the charter, and religious intolerance; and 
then declared that the incongruous collocation of these three tenets was the 
basic condition of social survival. So they achieved such mosaics as this of 
Oakesin 1673: 

God hath delivered you from the Paw of the Lion and of the Bear, so that you 
have not known by woful experience to this day, what a wicked, oppressing Ruler 
means, nor seen one of these cruel and imperious Beasts among you. God hath not 
given us Rulers that would fleece us, that would pull the bread out of our mouthes, 
that would grinde our faces and break our bones, that would undermine and rob us 
of our Liberties, Civil and Religious, to the enslaving of this people and their 


Liberty, prosperity, religious independence, and intolerance thus became 
(in contrast to Winthrop's) their little model of the Kingdom of Christ 
"not in the wild sense of those that are called Fift-monarchy men, but 
in the sober sense of many of our Divines." Yet at the moment this intel- 
lectual synthesis was achieved, the church order had barely escaped disas- 
ter over the Third Church, and the ministers had been so accused of arro- 
gance that their counteremphasis upon intolerance has a visibly frenetic 
quality. Theirs was not, like Winthrop's, an assertion of the ideal society, 
but a lash with which to whip unruly congregations and pragmatical Depu- 
ties into line. 

Of course, said Oakes, Englishmen are tenacious of their rights, and reli- 
gious ones "are wont to be as stout Asserters of their Liberties as any 
men," but for persons then to cry for liberty of conscience as a right is 
"to fling open the great Gate for the ready Admission and Reception of 
all Abominable Heresies." Samuel Willard laid bare the motive behind 
such pleading when denouncing, in the same year, those who still opposed 
the Half- Way Covenant: the sinews of civil order will be destroyed "by 
reason of the necessary evils incident to a declining Popular Government." 
Not all the Deputies who in 1670 arraigned the ministers were necessarily 
enemies of the charter, but they surely struck at the one interest most re- 
solved to fight and die for it. The clergy had thus to double and redouble 
their efforts to convince the masses that the preservation of the regime was 
one with the cause of freedom, and then to incite this regime to deprive 
large numbers of them of religious freedom. The danger, increasing every 
moment, was that such dissidents would begin to look toward the threat- 
ened English intervention as a promise of relief. At the Reforming Synod, 
where the clergy made a supreme effort to retain their power, they also 
impressed upon the civil authorities the lesson that no reformation ever 
succeeded without vigorous assistance from magistrates. 

Several developments in the succession of jeremiads which otherwise 
might seem merely rhetorical take on more precise meanings when linked 
with these political tensions. The national covenant, for instance, was so 
exploited as to become the bond that included all the population; judg- 
ments of God could then be presented as provoked by universal corruptions, 
and the obligation to reform having become an obligation to accept the 
dictates of authority could be pressed remorselessly upon both half-way 
members and natural inhabitants. So, too, greater and greater weight was 
given to the argument that rewards of the external covenant are "tempo- 
ral" wherefore merchants should remind themselves of what they owed 
to government under the charter. God "brought us into a wealthy place," 
said the Synod's preface in 1680; nowhere eke on the face of the earth 
have a people come "to such perfection and considerableness, in so short a 
time." James Fitch in 1676 devised an interesting twist to this considera- 
tion: he was willing that the unregenerate should be less disturbed in their 
sins as long as they supported the government, because "if the ruling and 


carrying party do shine in Grace and Godliness, this will argue for that 
People." Sinning merchants would not provoke so much vengeance (and 
financial loss) if only they would not cooperate with Royal Commissioners. 

Philip's War gave a wonderful opportunity to pronounce judgment on 
the entire people, since the tomahawk observed no distinction between saints 
and reprobates: "because of the provoking of his sons and daughters, the 
Lord hath moved us to anger with a foolish Nation, and moved us to 
jealousie with those which are not a people." The summons to reformation 
here merged with that to political allegiance: will you, asked Samuel 
Hooker m 1677, still drink, swear, and "scoffe at the wayes and servants 
of God?" Then beware lest "the names you bear, the houses you dwell 
in, the estates you inherit, and places you sustain, rise up in judgment against 
you." Yet with every such utterance, the fact came closer to the surface: 
the jeremiad was not succeeding in gearing ancient names (Dudley and 
Denison) or houses and estates (Wharton, Brattle, Sergeant) into the 
united front. In 1682, as the cause of the charter drooped, Willard sounded 
another of these exhortations, but as much as admitted, in The Only Sure 
Way to Prevent Calamities, that the device was growing stale. 

In addition to the national covenant, there were other instruments of 
excitation to be tried preparation, for instance. "The unpreparedness of 
this or that people for a full Scriptural Reformation many times is a great 
Clog and Remorce to pious Rulers and Ministers that are vigorously pur- 
suing it." In order to make these clogs the more inexcusable, some exhort- 
ers, employing the Peripatetic doctrine of psychological faculties, found 
themselves depicting the mechanism of preparation in such manageable 
terms as to put it at the disposal of all but the utterly besotted. Man being 
a rational creature, Allm explained, his "understanding is the guide of the 
will, the will hath command of every other faculty"; consequently, one 
who understands the value of reformation (how could he not comprehend 
after decades of jeremiads?) will command his affections to make a try. 
But how does one come to understanding? Not alone through knowledge 
of good and evil, but through experience of them ; there must be not only 
a discovery of evil, "but an expenence of it that it is so." Had not New 
England, with plagues, wars, and now internal dissensions, had enough 
experience? In such discourses the conventional reminder that before the 
spirit assists us we are impotent becomes perfunctory, often being omitted; 
the more usual application takes the form, "Would we be free from misery, 
would we be happy, make this Our business." 

Allm explained, in the language of the faculty psychology (which, as a 
subsection of physics, was taught throughout the century at Harvard), 
how an outward stimulus is received by the senses as an image, is stored 
in the memory, whence it can be summoned by the reason, "causing the 
will and affections of the Soul to live and walk in the strength of it." If 
the people were to be invigorated into acts of will, their memories and 
imaginations had to be filled with images of the pristine virtue, of the sue- 


cess and the unity of the original New England. Hence in the jeremiads 
of this era, particularly after 1676, a theme receives literary formulation 
which henceforth was to be a staple of the New England mind: ancestor 
worship. Virtually every one who migrated as an adult before 1640 was 
gone; in order to lay the covenant of the golden age upon their descend- 
ants (and incidentally to prove to those who bore such a name as Dudley 
that they were a lesser breed than their fathers), the spokesmen called for 
such a veneration of progenitors as is hardly to be matched outside China. 
When God first "began to keep House in this Wilderness," said Stoughton, 
"it was furnished with the choicest Household-stuff"; or, as he put it in an- 
other metaphor that quickly became the classic statement, "God sifted a 
whole Nation that he might send choice Grain over into this wilderness." 
Soon emphasis upon this theme was carried to such lengths of abjectness 
("I should rather suspect my own judgment in Scriptures, then theirs about 
that case") that we marvel how any Protestant culture could so abnegate 
its Christian liberty, until we remind ourselves that the preachers were 
fighting tooth and nail for what they considered survival, that these ges- 
tures were not so much humble submissions to the past as a discharge of 
heavy artillery against their antagonists. Increase Mather was the foremost 
artisan of this appeal, and his son grew up in a household where it was the 
dally topic ot discourse, so that the Magnalw ultimately was to become, 
under the guise of history, a sustained chant to the glory of mighty and 
already misty ancestral heroes. But Solomon Stoddard, looking on from the 
safety and distance of Northampton, was obliged to notice that despite all 
this Matherian eloquence, the posterity seemed little disposed to emulate 
their fathers; he wondered if there were not better ways to subjugate 
pragmatical merchants. 

In March of 1676 the newly organized Lords of Trade dispatched 
Edward Randolph to Boston, ostensibly to present the claims of Mason to 
New Hampshire and of Gorges to Maine, but actually to prepare for 
action against the charter. While he was still on his ten-week voyage, and 
while the war with Philip hung in doubt, William Hubbard of Ipswich 
delivered at the election in May The Haf finest of a People in the Wisdome 
of their Rulers Directing And in the Obedience of their Brethren Attend- 
ing) the finest prose of the decade, which rises into a lofty hymn to order: 
"It was Order that gave Beauty to this goodly fabrick of the world, which 
before was but a confused Chaos." At first sight, it appears a repetition, in 
more poetic vein, of Winthrop's conception of a hierarchy of mutual obli- 
gation, concluding, like the Modell, with the social moral of "Unity, Love 
and Peace"; yet on second reading it reveals, in the name of these slogans, 
a lesson distinctly counter to that of Shepard, Oakes, and Increase Mather. 
As openly as possible, Hubbard pleads for toleration. The end of govern- 
ment, he says, is civil peace and honesty, which does indeed require en- 
forcement of the "First Table," but peaceable dissenters in religion will 
not be recovered by excessive severity, nor should we be too eager to at- 


tain unanimity in opinions of lesser certainty for which the wisest of men 
have always demanded latitude. While the liberty of choosing our own 
rulers is a high privilege, yet "it may become an occasion of the greatest 
bondage; as hath been too sadly verified almost in all elective states and 
kingdoms in the world." With calculated effrontery, Hubbard says he will 
not reprove those who have fulminated against toleration "lest it should 
be an insinuation, that some here present are inclined that way," but will 
remark that when we have to deal with mistakes not seditiously or blas- 
phemously maintained, "there seems neither rule from the word of God, 
nor reason from the nature of the thing, why any should undergoe capital 
punishment." The Netherlands, he ventures to remind the General Court, 
strengthened themselves by softening "the sharpness of all differences about 
religion found in other places so troublesome." Just as magistrates should 
not, "Gallio like, let truth and errour run together in a race, catch it 
who can; no neither should they Gyant-like strain up all under their 
power to their own measure, or bringing them down to their owne size, 
as was said of Procrustes, that used so to deal with his Guests." 

Unfortunately we know little about Hubbard. The General Court 
commissioned him to write a history of New England, which he finished 
in 1682, but it displeased certain elements (particularly, it seems, Increase 
Mather) and so was never published. When news of the abrogation of the 
charter arrived in 1685, Hubbard wrote the General Court a counsel of 
moderation, whereupon several ministers violently protested that he spoke 
not for them. Thus Hubbard seems clearly to align himself with those 
Randolph called the moderates, an impression somehow confirmed by the 
fact that at the ripe age of seventy-three he scandalized the respectable by 
marrying his housekeeper. Certainly the jeremiads contain dark references 
to the awful fact that even "elders" were in the opposition; while Hub- 
bard's sermon of 1676 is no mighty blast for religious liberty, it represents 
the sort of caution that was dawning upon men like Simon Bradstreet and 
Major General Daniel Denison both of whom, incidentally, were married 
to sisters of Joseph Dudley. Small as it may seem to us, the gulf was in 
fact immense between the enraged lashings of Unan Oakes and this serene 
sentence of Hubbard's: "Or to what end should men be put to produce 
either Scripture or reason to confirm the Religion they profess ... if 
they can expect no other Answer, then from the executioner or officer of 

The next year, 1677, Increase Mather gave the election sermon, and 
A "Discourse Concerning the Danger of Afostacy is manifestly a rebuttal 
of Hubbard: "The Toleration of all Religions and Perswasions, is the way 
to have no true Religion left." For the supreme demonstration of this rule, 
Mather cited the crushing evidence of the founders: "If your blessed Fa- 
thers and Predecessors were alive, and in place, it would not be so: If 
Winthrop, Dudley, Endicot were upon the Bench, such profaneness as 
this would soon be suppressed." By threatening the General Court, he 


forced the division into the open: "God will change either you, or your 
Government ere long." 

This was frank speaking too frank. Hitherto the General Court had 
regularly voted the printing of election orations, but this time they point- 
edly baulked. Mather waited two years, then published his sermon himself, 
but took off some of the sting by half-concealing it amid three moralizing 
sermons in a volume labeled A Call -from Heaven, explaining the delay 
on the ground that he suffered from an inability to perform good works 
a humility which nobody in the colonies took seriously. By 1679 Mather 
had also triumphantly managed the Synod, and was issuing its resolutions 
with a blistering preface, The Necessity of Reformation, which, in the 
vehemence of its excoriation, reveals how much the effort to excite a 
moral renaissance was in fact an attempt to mobilize the community 
against England, against toleration, and above all against those in its 
midst who would surrender to both. At this moment, Cotton Mather 
says, the "adversaries" began to call his father "the Mahomet of New 

Randolph was a fussy, devoted, unimaginative and exasperating man, one 
of those who want to tidy up the universe and who therefore expend a life- 
time of energy on the first detail they find amiss. He tried to make good 
Englishmen out of New Englanders, for which most of them hated him 
"blasted wretch," Cotton Mather cried as cordially as he did them. 
He was coolly, not to say rudely, greeted by Governor Leverett, but he 
soon detected the existence of the two parties, his reports dubbing the one 
"moderates" and the other, that which, led by Increase Mather, clung 
to the charter, the "f action." The shrieks of the faction cannot be ex- 
plained unless we remember that from 1676 to 1684 a group of solid and 
influential citizens actually abetted Randolph to an extent which patriotic 
members of the faction could regard only as treason. In this decade was 
introduced into history a division of Americans into two basic types, each 
legitimately derived from the founders, but irreconcilably opposed over 
their conception of the destiny of America. 

Nothing, from this point of view, is more instructive than the reception 
which greeted, upon their return to America, successive "agents" sent by 
the colonies to Europe, John Winthrop, Jr., coming back in 1662 with a 
veritable triumph of negotiation in his Connecticut charter, had the Devil's 
own time convincing the colony of its advantage and was accused, of 
course, by New Haven of having been corrupted and seduced by wily 
diplomats in Whitehall. Simon Bradstreet and John Norton brought back, 
in September 1662, the king's letter that enabled the General Court to 
renew persecutions of Quakers, but because these patriots could not get 
everything their constituents wanted, they were execrated; Norton died 
of chagrin, and Bradstreet rapidly became what Randolph called a moder- 
ate. In 1676, in reply to Randolph's first demands, the General Court 
sent William Stoughton and Peter Bulkeley to London, where they had 


to answer several pointed questions. They tried to contend that the law 
of 1664 had enlarged the franchise, and that a later one, in 1673, had 
fully opened it, although the Attorney-General had been informed by 
Randolph that both were ineffective. But, though they thus resolutely car- 
ried out their instructions, and for the moment staved off action against 
the charter, they too came home to murmurs of a mission unaccomplished, 
whereupon both became moderates. Bulkeley's action is not difficult to un- 
derstand: he was in business. But Stoughton, who had graduated from Har- 
vard in 1650, had seemed up to this point another Increase Mather; he 
had gone to England, become a Fellow of New College, and then a curate 
in Sussex until ejected in 1662 by the Act of Uniformity, when he, like 
Mather, retreated to New England. For some reason he did not take a 
pulpit, but turned to the study of law; at the election of 1668 he spoke 
for the orthodoxy when he said that God winnowed all England to select 
the choicest grain for this wilderness. Yet from London in 1677 he began 
to write home that colonial evasions of the Navigation Acts had become a 
serious offense, for which he was branded a traitor. Under this treatment, 
he who in 1668 was an extreme asserter of American exception alism by 
1679 became an ally of Randolph. 

In February 1680 the General Court was ordered to send new agents. 
Stoughton was elected, but begged off he knew the penalty. In March 
of 1682, John Richards and Joseph Dudley were finally sent; in the his- 
tory of American embassies none is more prophetic, in the fullest sense of 
the word, than this one. As was frequently to be the case, Europeans 
were warned in advance: Richards, wrote Randolph to the Secretary of 
State, belongs to the faction but is of mean extraction and should be kept 
"very safe till all things tending to the quiett and regulation of this gov- 
ernment be perfectly settled." The English took such good care of him 
that he figures not at all in the negotiations, and so came home as much 
a faction man as ever. But Dudley, son of Winthrop's severe lieutenant, 
"hath," said Randolph, "his fortune to make in the world," and could 
be bought. 

While Dudley was being bought, the General Court proclaimed day 
after day of humiliation, praying God to continue "our libertjes, civil & 
sacred, and in his good time, to returne our agents, & saue his deare peo- 
ple in the land of our fathers sepulchers." After failing to keep Gould 
from occupying his church, they repealed their laws against Quakers and 
instructed Richards and Dudley to tell the Lords that Anabaptists "are 
now subject to no other penal statutes then those of the Congregational 
way" (although in 1680 Increase Mather had published a denunciation 
of that "blasted Error"). They also told the agents to assure the home 
government that all laws restricting the citizenship were removed, though 
with a last whimper of defiance they humbly conceived that by the charter 
they might admit whom they would. In this year, 1682, someone who 
signed himself "J. W." printed in London A Letter from New-England, 


which Dudley found in the stalls upon his arrival. It shows what th 
jeremiads were contending with behind the scenes: New Englanders pay 
no attention to the king; their religion consists in cheating; they deny bap- 
tism to any but the children of their churches, "looking upon all but their 
own dear Cubs as the Seed of Pagans and infidels"; they are fornicators 
and adulterers, and "the worst of Drunkards may here find Pot-compan- 
ions enough, for all their pretences to Sobriety." They reveal their dis- 
agreeable character in a thousand ways a vintner put up a sign with two 
naked boys upon it, "their Nudities Pendent"; when reproved, he replaced 
it with "two Chopping Girles with Merkins exposed," for which he was 
dealt with by a local sessions gravely determined "(to keep the Girles from 
blushing) they should have Roses clapt upon their Merkms; which is the 
original of our new Proverb, Under the Rose a Merkin." 

Dudley worked under difficulties, not the least of which was his at- 
tempt, under pious instructions, to bribe Lord Hyde with two thousand 
guineas. Country boys play in London the game either of bribery or gal- 
lantry at their peril; Dudley made a mess of it, and wrote to Bradstreet, 
"Truly, sir, if you was here to see how we are ridiculed by our best friends 
at court ... it would grieve you." This was a danger his father and 
other builders of the city, being members in good standing of the Calvinist 
Internationale, had not contemplated that they should be ridiculed as boor- 
ish provincials. From this humiliation Joseph Dudley never recovered, but 
when he came home in January 1684, he received the ultimate insult 
from his own countrymen- at a Boston town meeting Increase Mather 
aroused the citizens with glowing pictures of how their fathers had pur- 
chased this vineyard, and in the excitement of the moment got from them 
a resolution condemning Bradstreet, Stoughton, Dudley, and Bulkeley as 
"Enemies of the Countrey." That the foremost spiritual leader of the 
regime should thus rouse the rabble against those who temponzed in the 
slightest degree with internationalism is in itself a final commentary on 
the course the social evolution had followed since the time John Wmthrop 
crushed the Hingham rebellion with an implacable disquisition about the 
nature of civil liberty. 

To the bitter end the General Court kept appointing days of humilia- 
tion "in respect of our sacred, ciuil, & temporall concernes, and more espe- 
cially those in the hands of our agents abroad, as also for those kingdomes 
vpon whose welfare our oune doth so nearly depend, & for the Protestant 
churches and interest elsewhere." To the last the court kept up their sem- 
blance of unity, instructing Richards and Dudley in February 1683 to 
preserve at all costs "our liberties and privileges in matters of religion and 
worship of God, which you are therefore in no wise to consent to any in- 
fringement of." Because it appeared that despite such exhortations Dudley 
responded to European blandishments, he became the scapegoat for out- 
raged domestic virtue, and so, pilloried as a traitor, the most resolute foe of 
the regime of his father. 


Randolph exaggerated the numbers and influence of the moderates, but 
they were formidable: Dudley and his brothers-in-law, Bradstreet and 
Denison; Stoughton and Bulkeley, the discredited agents; William Browne, 
Wait Wmthrop, Samuel Shnmpton, Bartholomew Gedney. Correspond- 
ingly the faction waxed more positive, better organized, some of its leaders 
like Elisha Cooke and Elisha Hutchinson taking their stand not as 
convinced theocrats but simply as enemies of Dudley. To support this band, 
preachers of jeremiads arrayed the cosmos on the side of the charter. When 
at last it was annulled, and a majority of the Assistants were prone to sur- 
render, the combination of ministers and political agitators proved still 
strong enough to carry the "popular" House of Deputies that organ 
which in 1670 had accused the clergy of subverting the order' 

Were we to judge from printed survivals, we should suppose all New 
England united at this moment in detestation of some unnamed and lurk- 
ing enemy in its midst. The moderates worked under suspicion, by word 
of mouth or through papers quickly burned; but one or two utterances 
can be found, and they give us essential clues. Governor Bradstreet's son 
wrote him from New London: 

Better the ruin, if it must be so, under other hands than yours. Time will make 
it appear who have been the faithful and wise conservators of New England's lib- 
erties, and that the adored saviours of our interests, many of them, have consulted 
very ill the interest espoused by them. 

An intransigent defense of the charter let the federal theology be what 
it may seemed to such realists no way to advance either the prosperity 
or the freedom of the colonies. Therefore, by opposing the logic of the 
jeremiad which was the logic of the covenant they in effect were 
obliged to depart from the ideal of intolerance; somewhat to their own 
surprise, they had to suggest that allowance of religious difference was 
compatible with the welfare of the land. 

Daniel Denison died on September 20, 1682; Hubbard preached his 
funeral sermon (conclusive proof that he was in the moderate councils). 
On June 24, another day of humiliation, Hubbard had carefully prepared 
The Benefit of a Well Ordered, Conversation, but not until 1684 dared 
print both the sermon and the funeral discourse. His point, as when speak- 
ing on Denison, was sufficiently clear: 

If we cast an eye upon all the following Histories of the Church, in succeeding 
Ages, we shall find, that much of those sufferings which have fallen upon the Gen- 
eration of the just, might either have been prevented or much abated j if they had 
governed their affairs by a suitable measure of Wisdom in their concerns with 
themselves or others. 

Lest this should appear no more than abstract rhetoric to honor a distin- 
guished magistrate, Hubbard appended Denison's own last word of advice 
to his country, Iremcon, or a Salve for New England's Sore. A neglected 


book, it is a wise, sane, level-headed plea for toleration written by an 
orthodox New Englander (and thus to be distinguished from the inspired 
works of Roger Williams). Men are forced to associate, Denison mused, 
but it is possible, within the general body, that diverse groups remain sep- 
arate "and following their Laws and Manners to flourish in wealth and 
peace." Because God has given men reason, well-meaning persons may 
manage to live side-by-side "without submitting themselves to the com- 
mon reason of others combined in a body politick"; civil order is impor- 
tant, but Denison wished that we might still reserve "to our selves those 
natural powers by liberties which God and Nature hath betrusted us with 
as men." Slowly emerging from the moderates' stand against the die-hards 
were tentative outlines of a conception of freedom of conscience as a right 
based upon immutable nature; they may have been helped, here and there, 
by the news that this idea was on the march in Europe, but most immedi- 
ately they were led to it in order to gain ground against the jeremiad, ac- 
cording to which no rights existed except those that had been specifically 
covenanted for, the definition of which depended upon authoritative deci- 
sion of experts in federalism, upon the clergy and their synods. 

Here we find ourselves amid a confusion of labels. A patriotic nineteenth- 
century version of colonial history held that Dudley and his friends were 
despicable Tones; in 1864 John Gorham Palfrey (himself untroubled by 
lack of income), noticing that the moderates were generally rich men 
among whom noble sentiment is timid, announced that "the instincts of 
wealth incline to the side of arbitrary power." Reacting to such pomposity, 
recent students perceive that the moderates were pioneers of religious toler- 
ation and so deserve the name of liberals; in this view, the faction becomes 
a hive of demagogues fighting, in the language of James Truslow Adams, 
"to perpetuate religious intolerance, and the intrenched privilege of a minor- 
ity to tax an unenfranchised majority four times as numerous." All of which 
proves doubly confusing if we revert to the actual words (such as survive) 
of those who, both in Massachusetts and Connecticut, welcomed the Eng- 
lish action : they were men disgusted with the arrogance and presumption of 
democracy. They were anything but libertarians; they were authoritarians, 
ready to give up the charter because, in their experience, it supported elected 
officers and rampaging parsons who could not keep the populace in order. 
Where in the civilized world, asked Denison, exist a people less respectful 
of their leaders, where "men of worth" weigh so little? The rabble, hav- 
ing only "some slender opportunities of the knowledge of some affairs in 
Church and state," are so puffed up with notions of their own importance 
"that they dare not only vye with, but contemn the judgements of those 
Grandees whose abilities and atchievements all wise and sober men have 
admired." What Denison meant by grandees is, to say the least, interest- 
ing: Calvin, Ames, Walsingham, Burleigh and "Matchiavel." This opens 
up avenues of speculation concerning exactly what the moderates of the 
1680's stood for: those who first moved, not like Williams out of faith 


but out of disillusion, toward toleration found moral support in Machiavelli ' 
The clue is worth remembering, for, as we shall see, the figure of Machia- 
velli has a curious prosperity m the later life of the New England mind. 

After the Reforming Synod, the clergy found themselves shorn of every 
weapon except moral persuasion and their threat of vengeance. Within a 
year, they had to perceive that the Synod was a failure: "Are not some 
weary of that Theocracy, or Government which God hath established 
amongst us, as to sacred and civil respects, willing for a change m both ? " 
They could not admit that valid reasons for compromise on the charter 
or on toleration existed within the realms of reason and nature. Could 
they, by subordinating these sanctions to the covenant, find any more per- 
suasive arguments for a final stand? 

Increase Mather, having stood against the Half-Way Covenant on doc- 
trinaire grounds, had learned how to behave when events were running 
against him. The passion with which he conducted the Synod of 167980 
shows him aware of what was at stake, he foresaw that Joss of the charter 
would mean not merely that his faction was out of power, but that the 
whole structure of colonial thought the national covenant, the framework 
of the jeremiad would be in jeopardy. If a society federated with Jehovah 
could have its form of government imposed by an unfederated Whitehall, 
New England would be reduced to merely one among the communities of 
this earth, its regulations amounting to nothing more than those of natural 
circumstance. Unless something were done to rescue the basic concept of a 
peculiar obligation in some such fashion as might survive even an annul- 
ment of the providentially given charter the cause of religion would be 
lost for a civilization where there was no other tradition to fall back upon. 
Without it, Christianity itself would become, like the political theory of the 
moderates, nothing more than a rationalized naturalism. 

On May 12, 1681, Mather met with the ministers of the colony, and 
organized them to collect from their several localities all the "notable 
Stories" they could find; he edited their reports, and in 1684 published 
An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences , the most successful 
of all his writings, a second edition being called for within a year and a 
London imprint quickly following. It has been studied by antiquarians, by 
students of science and of folklore; today it is as much alive as anything 
he ever composed. 

He invited his colleagues to assemble "All, and only Remarkable Provi- 
dences/' those testifying the glory of God "and the good of Posterity" 
by which he meant to exclude mere "common" providences and to repro- 
duce "such Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earthquakes, Thunders 
as are unusual, strange Apparitions, or what ever else shall happen that is 
Prodigious, Witchcrafts, Diabolical Possessions, Remarkable Judgements 
upon noted Sinners: eminent Deliverances and Answers of Prayer." In- 
crease patiently sorted out the accounts, improved the style, and classified 
them under subject-headings, such as sea-deliverances, preservations, "dae- 
mons." apparitions, and tempests. 


To most modern readers, the book seems a collection of old-wives* 
tales and atrocity stories, at best hilariously funny and at worst a parade 
of gullibility. Charitable historians of science, recognizing that in 1684 
the thesis of God's hand exhibited in strange events was neither abnormal 
nor absurd, lamely defend the work as an inductive investigation, data 
collected to support a hypothesis. Mather lends support to the latter view 
by advertising that he had achieved only a small part of what might be 
written about the "Natural History of New England" according to rules 
"described by that Learned and excellent person Robert Boyle Esq.," or 
by citing, from time to time, Digby, Sir Thomas Browne, and the Philo- 
sophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He did, indeed, try to check 
his facts, to present what he believed was accurate reporting. One is en- 
titled to see in this assemblage of horrors an important advance in the Puri- 
tan temper, which always paid due regard to strange occurrences, as did 
Winthrop to the birth of Mary Dyer's "monster." After the Restoration, 
English Puritans, shut out of the government, concentrated their energies 
upon similar investigations, like Samuel Clarke's Mirrour or Looking Glasse 
both for Saints and Sinners of 1671 (upon which Mather drew). Indeed, 
Mather freely acknowledges that the nucleus of his project had been con- 
ceived in England twenty-six years before, and had been communicated 
to John Davenport, among whose papers Mather found the manuscnpt. 
Thus the Essay aligns itself with a venerable tradition stretching back to 
the medieval exempla, but also supported by the most recent scientific 
method. This interpretation allows us to suppose the incredible: that, at 
the moment Mather and his colleagues were engaged in a struggle for 
existence, they idly embarked upon a collection of curiosa! 

They were doing nothing of the sort. The Essay is a concerted counter- 
attack upon enemies, or at least skeptics, of the covenant theology. Even 
in his account of King Philip's War, Mather had implanted corrosive 
doubts about the doctrine because he recorded the failure of victory to fol- 
low the ritualistic humiliation, or the astonishing success of a thanksgiving 
he thought unwarranted. Since then, fervently repeated days of humilia- 
tion had led only to a diminished confidence in the charter, to the increase 
of moderates who muttered that it had outlived its purpose. An efficient 
cause could, in Puritan theory, determine an effect without invalidating the 
thesis of a final cause; but when the weight of English authority began 
to press upon local arrangements, skepticism concerning the national cove- 
nant was bound to increase. How could men continue to believe that New 
England enjoyed a peculiar and sanctified relation to Jehovah, or that He 
would come to their aid against King Charles merely because the people 
repented and reformed? And if Jehovah would not help them, why should 
they repent at all? 

This background gives a special poignance to the publication in 1682 
(with a preface by Increase Mather) of a sermon by Unan Oakes, deliv- 
ered as long before as 1677: The Soveraign Efficacy of Divine Providence. 


of hope or desperation when published than when delivered, because it 
seemed to assure the faithful that time and chance although to them 
unpredictable are governed by God, who does not stir up second causes 
(such as Crown lawyers) and leave these to their own inclinations, 
"whither they shall go, & what they shall do: but He leads them forth, 
and determines them to this, or that object." Because Oakes contended 
that this rule applied not only to natural agents (like fire or sea) but to 
"rational Agents, that act by Counsel," readers in 1682 would suppose 
that it might confine the Lords of Trade. His conclusion was vibrantly 
optimistic: "Chance is something that falls out beside the Scope, Intention, 
and foresight of Man, the Reason and cause whereof may be hid from 
him ; and so it excludes the Counsel of Men ; but it doth not exclude the 
Counsel and Providence of God." But, in 1682, did there seem much like- 
lihood that the chance action of the Crown (it had so far been irrational 
enough!) was any longer to be directed into those channels which, viewed 
from New England, were counsels of God? 

Mather's Essay was an attempt to show that the wisdom of God does 
prevail, if not in general, then in particulars. Thus it tried to redeem the 
vocation of New England, even after a series of agents who either failed 
their instructions or went over to the enemy. The faction would not yield 
an inch, either to nature or to toleration. God will regulate all instruments, 
Willard explained in 1683, "yes, though, as they are rational agents, and 
causes by councel of their own actions, they design nothing but mischief"; 
He will use them, "not to gain their own projected ends, but his, which 
they neither know nor design." Even as Mather brought out the Essay, 
he published The Doctrine of Divine Providence Opened and Afplyed, 
in which he cast light upon the secret intention of the larger book: yes, 
wicked men do prosper in this world (New Englanders would think of 
Dudley), but God raises up His enemies in order to cast them the farther" 
downward. At the back of his mind, as of Willard's and of others' in the 
faction, lay the seed of self-distrust Hubbard had gently sown in 1676: 
even amid the horrors of war, Hubbard suggested that while some saw 
therein punishment for a declension from the ways of our forbears, "It is 
two to one if some doe not say the contrary." The sailors had been over- 
hasty in accusing Jonah: "We must not eye for God, and need be carefull 
we doe not entitle divine Providence to the mistakes of our minds, and 
make God speak that by his providence, which never entred into his heart." 
Should such a doubt get abroad, the jeremiad would collapse ; the concep- 
tion of special significance that had been the strength and sustenance of 
New England ever since Winthrop's Modell would disintegrate, and re- 
sistance to England's attack on the charter would evaporate. In order to 
prove that, despite the overbearing power of the home government, some 
fragments of the peculiar designation remained to demonstrate, with the 
help of scientific method, that the covenant still prevailed, if not for the 
whole colony, then for innumerable particulars Mather and his colleagues, 


confronted with political rum, girded themselves to compose the Essay. 
The book was a gesture against despair, it was a surrender of the idea 
of national covenant, a strategic retreat to an atomistic, f ragmen tal version 
of divine regulation. The scale was no longer a coherent sweep of history, 
but discrete "magnaha", not an over-all design working steadily through 
a predestined comse, but simply this tempest or that shipwreck, a deaf per- 
son who learned to speak, or so-and-so who was possessed. The inclusive 
vision of Bradford, the systematic structure into which Winthrop's jottings 
fit, was not so much lost as broken up, so that now falterers were offered, 
not an inexorable dialectic of progress, but an array of occasional and pri- 
vate "special providences." Men m the community would no longer re- 
spond to blessings (or curses) upon their corporate interest; wherefore, let 
them consider that individuals suffer singular fates, wherein God fre- 
quently may do good specifically to one or another. Left to natural logic, 
men might conclude that because the charter was abrogated they should 
as well submit to imperial agents-by-counsel, but if God still worked upon 
New England through such illustrious providences as were collected in the 
Essay > then each pious citizen, in the citadel of his hearth, became a resist- 
ant against the temporarily overweanmg power of the Crown against its 
treasonable allies like Dudley and its natural agents such as Randolph. 

In no perspective of this guerrilla warfare could the acceptance of tolera- 
tion be allowed : as long as illustrious providences supported one sort of men 
rather than another, no trust was to be placed in the professions of liberals. 
"Corrupt minds," said Increase Mather, "though they may plead for Tol- 
eration and Cry up Liberty of Conscience, &c., Yet if once they should 
become numerous and get power into their hands, none would persecute 
more than they." Even while the clergy were confessing that not half the 
freemen would come to the hustings for election of a Deputy, Willard was 
telling these debilitated saints that the design of the first planters had not 
been toleration, that they "were professed Enemies of it, and could leave 
the World professing they died no Libertines." The next year, Willard 
had to acknowledge, "I am not ignorant to how much calumny I expose 
my self in mentioning this point," but he was not deterred from speaking 
up for what, after all, was the essential (although not always so blatantly 
advertised) point of the jeremiads. "If men, upon pretence of Conscience 
(and who will not pretend it, if they may find it a shelter against Justice? ) 
. . . may be suffered . . . without any restraint to run to and fro. Dis- 
seminate their erronious principles," then Christ would show His disap- 
proval, if not through national, then through illustrious providences. 

Willard's discourses show, as do others in these years, a realization that 
the Reforming Synod had failed to evoke popular response. Increase 
Mather further betrayed it in 1682, on receipt of news from France, by 
preaching on the doctrine that the true church must endure persecution. 
Had he had a united and resolute society behind him, he might have ral- 
lied it to defiance ; all he could do, confronting the loss of the charter, was 


to tell Massachusetts that never did "degenerate Churches continue long 
without smarting under the Rod of persecution" and hope that New 
England would submit as little as had Puritan England in the days of his 

Thus, while a number of realistic (self-appointedly patriotic) citizens 
were considering that a reasonable deal could be made with the English 
government, intractable isolationists like Mather and Willard (reduced to 
this extremity only because the Europe of their inherited conception no 
longer gave them support) strove to convince the colonists that submis- 
sion to their sovereign Charles II would be as fatal as yielding to Louis XIV. 
While the tide of politics ran against them, they turned in anguish to tabu- 
lating special and peculiar providences not out of a devotion to science, 
but in the hope that science, by bringing home to the multitude the horrors 
and dangers of diabolical possessions and witchcrafts, would keep alive 
allegiance to the ancient ways of New England even after a foreign author- 
ity had commanded concessions to difference of opinion. 

Despite the providential theory of the national covenant, despite the spe- 
cial providences, in the providence of history the charter fell. The Depu- 
ties were resolute to the end their protests written by Increase Mather. 
Dudley, Browne, Gedney were not reflected to the Board of Assistants, 
whereupon Bulkeley and Stoughton resigned; even though conducted to 
their homes by a mounted cavalcade, they were subjected to public insult. 
Internal dissension had, so it seemed, shattered the national covenant: 
were Jehovah any longer to maintain His controversy with these people, 
He would need to prod them, again and again, through particular trials, 
through individual deliverances. 

In London, the charter was annulled on October 23, 1684. In Boston, 
the General Court designated October 22 as a day of humiliation "for 
the more effectual promoting of the worke of generall reformation, so 
long discoursed of among ourselues (but greatly delayed).*' The delay 
had proved fatal, the propaganda offensive had failed. 

For a while British administration being British nothing happened, 
and the General Court continued to function. An election was held in 
May 1685, for which the court asked William Adams to deliver the ser- 
mon; he entitled it, God's Eye on the Contrite, under which designation 
he addressed the court as those "that are from among ourselves"; but he 
reminded them that God, for His own inscrutable reasons, sometimes fa- 
vors unrighteous men: "This is not so constant and perpetual, as that any 
man can merely from thence infallibly know love or hatred to be in God 
to him by all that is before him." This was for Joseph Dudley to consider. 
In Connecticut, where it was expected that the colony would soon be dealt 
with, John Whiting, in the election sermon of 1686, could take a more 
comprehensive view: bewailing, among other dark prospects, the increase 
of drunkenness, he summarized the mood of orthodox New England with, 
"It looks to me like the Approaches of a GENERAL DELUGE." 



Make ye mention to the nations, 

Behold, publish ag?inst Jerusalem, 

That watchers come from a far country, 

And give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 

As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; 

"Because she hath been rebellious against me," saith the Lord, 

"Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; 

This is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, 

Because it reacheth unto thine heart," 

JEREMIAH 4:16-18. 





being nothing else to do, the government of Massa- 
chusetts continued to function and that of Connecticut to tremble while 
Charles II died, Monmouth was subdued, and Catholic James was 
crowned. On May 12, 1686, Massachusetts held another election, but 
two days later Randolph landed with a commission that established a 
Council under the presidency of Dudley. In December came Sir Edmund 
Andros, with a comprehensive warrant making him Governor of the 
Dominion of New England (to which New York and New Jersey were 
added in 1688). He instituted proceedings against the charters of Rhode 
Island and Connecticut, whereupon, in October 1687, the regime at Hart- 
ford submitted with indecent haste. Dudley served as chief of the Council, 
but there was no elected legislature. In March 1689, intelligence reached 
Boston that William of Orange had landed, and on April 18 the town 
revolted. Andros and Randolph were imprisoned and then sent home to 
face charges of oppression, while the colonies quietly resumed their charter 
governments, Massachusetts awaiting what its agents could extract from 
the new sovereigns in London, whither Increase Mather had been smug- 
gled in 1688. 

In the history of British imperialism this experiment in consolidation is 
important, but for the New England mmd it is, taken by itself, only an 
episode. The years of the Dominion were, measured by domestic publica- 
tions, the most barren since the beginning of the Half -Way Covenant de- 
bate, amounting only to a few of the more innocuous or generalized ser- 
mons (except that, the presses being so little occupied, Solomon Stoddard 
was able in 1687 to print The Safety of defeating at the Day of Judgment 
in the Righteousness of Christy in which Sir Edmund would have seen 
nothing subversive). However, if for two and a half years thought and 
expression were arrested, the memory of this experience left an indelible 
impression: the Dominion endured as a symbol around which ideas had to 
be grouped. In that sense, the brief years are a tremendous gulf; after 
crossing them, the community emerged basically altered, radically trans- 

The most striking effect of the "tyranny" was a disintegration of the 
moderate party: no longer forced to stand together as an unpopular minor- 
ity, they turned to knifing each other instead of supporting the regime. 


Randolph picked the Council by hand: four of them including Bradstreet 
and his son refused to serve, suddenly and unaccountably calling the 
commission they had aided Randolph to secure "a thing contrived to 
abridge them of their liberty and indeed against Magna Charta." Ran- 
dolph was still more dismayed to discover that the grandees, once assem- 
bled in the Council, could achieve unity only when blocking some admin- 
istrative project; not only did the various colonies conspire against each 
other, but in each delegation, especially of the Bay, there appeared a fun- 
damental conflict of interests, of real-estate men against merchants, of 
Dudley, Stoughton, Bulkeley, and the Tyngs against Gedney, Wharton, 
and Usher. They turned out to hate each other more bitterly than any 
of them did Increase Mather. 

In a manner of speaking, they found themselves better Americans than 
they had supposed, and at the end of it a nauseated Randolph despaired of 
finding servants of the king among Yankees. He testifies, although with 
reluctance, to the fact that repudiators of the founders could no longer 
find their way back to becoming Englishmen: they wanted to get rid of 
what had become for them the disorder of Congregationalism, to escape 
from a teleological world into a universe of commerce and profit, and so 
to soften the notion that Jehovah visited their sins upon the community; 
but they had to find philosophical bases within their own experience, not 
in those supplied by Andros and Randolph. 

The commissions issued to Dudley and Andros required extensions of 
religious freedom, but Randolph was never able to get substantial help 
from the Council, even from the most moderate. Dudley, in fact, so 
fawned upon Increase Mather and showed so little enthusiasm for the 
Church of England that Randolph had to report his crony "treacherous" 
and to declare his rule "still but ye Govr & Company." Moderate Puritans 
would not assist the Rev. Robert RatclifFe, whom Randolph brought over 
to conduct Anglican services and who became the center of violent scenes 
when Andros tried to force the Third Church to lend itself to his necessi- 
ties for half the Sabbath; the few Anglicans were soon reduced to under- 
taking the construction of King's Chapel. All accounts agree that vices 
denounced in the jeremiads particularly drunkenness and street fighting, 
as well as the wearing of wigs increased. The experience helped to im- 
press upon the colonies a realization that they would have to come to terms 
with the idea of toleration, that they could not henceforth publicly treat 
the Church of England as though it were Rome; but even those who, a 
few years before, had pled for moderation, showed no enthusiasm what- 
soever toward these innovations. 

The Revolution of 1689 completed the break-up of the moderate align- 
ment. Those who, like Stoughton, came through without being ruined 
played the turncoat, and only a handful Dudley in Massachusetts, Ger- 
shom Bulkeley in Connecticut had enough conviction to stay with the 
sinking ship (or were too deeply committed). When Dudley was arraigned 


before the Lords of Trade, the charges were prepared by his onetime asso- 
ciate, Wait Winthrop. Home-grown conservatism learned in 1689 that 
the problem of keeping businessmen loyal to their professedly conservative 
principles is every bit as difficult as that of restraining the disorderlmess of 
democratic congregations. 

It is, as we have seen, juggling with words to call the moderates "con- 
servative." In one perspective, we may behold in them ancestors of the 
Tories of 1776, and so trace a line of descent from Dudley to Governor 
Hutchinson; however, as Oscar Handlin says of the effort to detect party 
continuity after the American Revolution, we must take into account the 
social mobility and such realignments as are bound to occur in revolution- 
ary years. Granted that 1689 produced no such convulsive realignments as 
1776, and that the social mobility of 1690, compared with that of 1790, 
was relatively constricted, still, in the scale of things as conceived by the 
New England mentality under the old charter, the effect of the Dominion 
and of its overthrow was shattering. Such social philosophy as the moder- 
ates had achieved consisted mainly of an aversion to strict intolerance; as 
long as they were contending with Increase Mather they might as justly 
be called liberals as conservatives, but when revocation of the charter de- 
stroyed the legal foundation of Mather's regime, and Mather himself 
became, overnight, the apostle of religious liberty, they found themselves 
without a cause. Their devotion to the Crown was in reality no more 
than impatience with local restraints; once the charter was gone, they 
had everything m common with the Mathers. 

If there was anything more in the way of^a political philosophy bur- 
geoning in their minds, it may be called an incipient royalism, a pale mani- 
festation of that spirit which in England became a passionate return to the 
throne as the refuge from religious and republican anarchy, and so inspired 
the Tory doctrines of non-resistance and the rejection of reason in religion. 
No New Englander went quite so far as to say with Dryden, "common 
quiet is mankind's concern," but Hubbard's hymn to "order" points that 
way. Dudley may already have concluded that a vigorous imperial admin- 
istration was the only possible corrective of colonial particularism, but he 
was so much the careerist and egotist that one hesitates to assign to him 
any coherent theory. The rest of his party had veered so little toward Tory- 
ism that, when the Glorious Revolution knocked the props from under 
them, they could hastily shift over to ardent Whigism and commence to 
seek their ends under shelter of the Bill of Rights. 

However, even in provincial New England, there was one remarkable 
exception. Whether Gershom Bulkeley should be seen as an extrapolation 
of ideas momentarily entertained by men like Hubbard, Stoughton, and 
Dudley can hardly be asserted, since they never committed themselves 
beyond the possibility of retreat, whereas he did. I think it worth noting 
that he, like Dudley, was a favored child of the charter regime and that 
by all the laws of heredity and environment he too ought to have followed 


the standard of Increase Mather. What is it, we are obliged to ask, in 
American life that makes the difference between a John Wise and a 
Bulkeley ? If today we still are unable to answer that crucial question, 
we should not be surprised that the New England mind, recovering from 
the shock of the Dominion, was unable to supply an answer the first time 
it was posed, and that consequently the figure of Gershom Bulkeley re- 
mains obscure and puzzling. In Will and Doom he wrote a minor mas- 
terpiece, but it was utterly without effect (being printed only in 1895) 
and my narrative might legitimately pass him by. If it did, it would miss a 
key to the comprehension of many subsequent and apparently unconnected 

Gershom's father was Peter Bulkeley of Concord, one of the foremost 
theologians among the founders, a vehement prosecutor of Anne Hutchin- 
son. Gershom thus was born to the Puritan purple, and accordingly gradu- 
ated from Harvard in 1655, but immediately he exhibited an inability to 
get along with his congregations. He preached for a while after 1661 in 
New London, moved to Wethersfield in 1666, and seems to have been 
more interested m medicine and surgery than in his father's theology. He 
served m Philip's War, nominally as chaplain but effectively as physician, 
was wounded and received New England's equivalent of a citation, a vote 
of thanks from the General Court of Connecticut. Assuredly, he was a 
brave man. When Connecticut supinely surrendered to Andros, Bulkeley 
accepted a commission as justice of the peace for Hartford county, and 
so ate the King's bread. But the moment tidings of Andros' overthrow 
reached Connecticut, the old government (legal proceedings against its 
charter never having been completed) resumed their power, pretending 
that nothing had happened. Bulkeley called them cowards, hypocrites, and 
time-servers - 3 in order to stigmatize them, he composed a little pamphlet, 
The People's Right to Election, which he had to get printed m Philadel- 
phia, for no Boston press would touch it. 

Showing himself more the lawyer than the theologian, Bulkeley argued 
that by their own act the Connecticut government had committed suicide, 
wherefore they could no longer pretend (even though the suit in London 
was not yet finished) that the charter was valid despite the legend of its 
being hidden in the hollow of an oak! What burns fiercely in this booklet 
is Bulkeley's utter contempt for his fellow countrymen, whom he brands 
as guilty of "Tumults, Insurrections, rebellious Riots, Sedition, Rebellion, 
Treason, &c." Having gone thus far, he could not well sit down and let 
traitors rule; evidently he set forth a paper of "Objections," which had 
a wide circulation, and which he rewrote in 1692 as Will and Doom, Or 
the Miseries of Connecticut by and under an Usurped and Arbitrary Power. 
The General Court, acting now in the name of English liberties, had 
ordered the collection of taxes, declaring that any who refused should be 
rated "will and doom." In Bulkeley's eyes this tyranny made Andros 
look like an amateur. 


His book, the first explicitly anti-democratic utterance in our literature, 
is one of the most vigorous and best written productions of the era. Energy 
and incisive language can, after all, flow from a reactionary pen. In the 
General Court, "what is wanted in authority is supplied by ferocity"; 
hence, "being angry with themselves for this supposed wrong, they wreack 
their spleen upon us, as if we had done it." "We must call a spade a spade, 
and rebellion by the name of rebellion, tho' some masters of rebellion may 
call us Tobiahs and Sanballats for so doing." 

The thesis is that of the 1689 pamphlet: the government of Connecticut 
is illegal because these cowards abjectly yielded in 1687 and so exist at the 
moment merely on royal sufferance. But what Bulkeley is really driving 
at, with all his scorn, is the spirit that motivates them: "A levelling, inde- 
pendent democratical principle and spirit, with a tang of the fifth-monarchy, 
which is a very churlish drug." They cry up their loyalty to King William 
and their love for the good old liberties, but in reality they trample upon 
the laws of England, indeed upon all law "except the forgeries of our 
own popular and rustical shop and the dictates of personal discretion." 
To show what he means by the horrors of their "nomothetic power," 
Bulkeley points to the miserable condition of England between 1642 and 
1660; this son of Puritanism regards the Puritan uprising against Charles I 
as the unforgivable sin against justice, King, and God; in remote Con- 
necticut he condemns it with a passion as infuriated as the most irate 
Cavalier returning with Charles II to wreak vengeance on Noll's damned 

There is a peculiar kind of vehemence, a main ingredient of our litera- 
ture, which can be achieved only by Americans disillusioned with America. 
Bulkeley came out with a program frankly authoritarian and arch-Tory; 
one has to go to contemporaneous pleas for subordination such as those of 
Dryden in order to find a parallel; yet Dryden's development into a social 
and theological conservative is, naturally, more explicable in London than 
is Bulkeley's in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Nevertheless, Bulkeley's asser- 
tions are as uncompromising (because the text is hidden in the Collections 
of the Connecticut Historical Society, I may be forgiven for quoting sev- 
eral of the more pungent aphorisms) ; 

That authority of government is a right of ruling over others. 

That civil government is the ordinance of God . . . 

Monarchy is the best form or kind of civil government. 

The king of England is (as was said of Solomon) the chief or supreme governor 
in all his dominions, over all persons and in all causes. 

The king is the minister of God for our good, and the fountain of all lawful civil 
authority within all his dominions. 

The royal power is so far [from being] the creation of man as that it is still, 
and firstly, the ordinance of God, to whom it belongs to limit and set bounds to it; 
and that degree of authority, and that prerogative which God hath by his ordi- 
nance given to the king as king, to accomplish him for the better attainment of 


his end, ought to be ascribed and yielded to him without limitation or restraint, 
else we resist the ordinance or God . . . 

No man hath authority to abuse his authority . . . 

All lawful authority being of God is therefore sacred, and ought to be obeyed, 
may not be resisted: he that resists lawful authority resists God, and therefore we 
would take heed of that . . . 

Rebellion against the king is a mediate rebellion against God, and is like the sin 
of witchcraft. 

It requires, at least of most Americans, considerable exercise of a nice 
feeling for theological consistency to understand why Archbishop Sancroft 
and five other prelates whom James II accused of malice and sedition be- 
cause they would not read from their pulpits his Declaration of Indulgence 
would thereafter give up their livings and voluntarily consign themselves 
to the desert of Nonjuration rather than acknowledge William as King. 
Even at the time, and even to many Tories, that dialectic became alto- 
gether too complicated and curious wherein a passionate devotion to the 
doctrine of non-resistance was consistently manifested as a refusal to obey. 
However, behind the Nonjurors lay a rich literature in which the duty 
of conscience to maintain both the Church against an erring king and an 
erring king against a usurper who pled natural right had been fully elab- 
orated. Possibly Bulkeley knew something of this literature, but nothing 
in his social experience would accustom him to living, day-m and day-out, 
with such exquisite refinements. At this remove, and in his isolation, he 
could not denounce the Glorious Revolution in England. But where Non- 
jurors had complete handbooks on the casuistry of non-resistance to guide 
them, their lone New England analogue had nothing but his profound 
disgust with the gang who were ruling his community. Since the new cant 
had suddenly become liberty and property are natural rights," he would 
go along, only pointing out that these rights were grounded upon the in- 
dividuality of the fang; then, by the same token, he would declare that 
slavery is contrary to nature, that "the desire and endeavour of the recov- 
ery of lost liberty cannot be blamed," and so come round to his conclusion 
that the most abject kind of slavery is that yielded "to base men" mean- 
ing, palpably, the General Court of Connecticut. This colony, he con- 
tended, is as much subject to the Crown as London or Oxford: "The 
realm of England is the mother that bare us: we are a swarm out of that 
hive." We are indeed remote from the king, lamented this American, and 
the farther we are removed, "the nearer we are to violence and injustice." 
The hope for America was that Their Majesties would extend the reign 
of justice to this land, so as to deliver men like Bulkeley from monsters 
"whose mouth speaks vanity and their right hand is a right hand of false- 

In 1704 Joseph Dudley, still consistently trying to get Connecticut's 
charter revoked, sent a copy of Bulkeley's manuscript to London, where 
Sir Henry Ashurst commended it to the Cabinet as saying "all the mall- 


cious things he possibly can invent, with great cunning and art." But 
England being England, some clerk filed it in the Public Records Office, 
and Gershom Bulkeley, having begged off from his ministry on the plea 
of a weak voice, lived out his life until 1713 in obscurity as a physician 
in Glastonbury. In 1692 he had coupled rebellion with the sin of witch- 
craft, and in passing made an observation which, that very year, had for 
the first time (though not for the last) become a startling insight into 
American society: "A denial is as good as an accusation, which without 
proof is but a calumny." 

The Revolutions of 1689 meant, if only by their coincidence, that com- 
munication was reestablished with England, because it was with a Whig 
England, the course of New England history perforce took a sudden and 
new turning. The Mathers were not only agile enough to go with the 
reversal of direction, but resolute enough to attempt to direct it; a number 
of other intellectuals were driven back upon themselves, into seclusion and 
meditation. These were the years in which Edward Taylor, Harvaid class 
of 1671, was serving as minister and also, like Bulkeley, as physician in 
his western town, Westfield, He took no part in politics, and was not, as 
was Bulkeley, a rebel against the Congregational order 5 but in some 
deeper sense, he too was out of touch and consciously with the system 
that emerged from the Revolution. He too turned inward, pouring out 
his anxiety in a verse technique that Puritans considered suitable only to 
the sensualities of the Church of England: 

Sh all I not smell thy sweet , oh! Sharons Rose? 

Shall not mine Eye salute thy Beauty? Why? 
Shall thy sweet leaves their Beautious sweets wpclose? 

As halfe ashamde my sight should on them fy? 

In seclusion he composed the finest American poetry of the century, as 
also m seclusion Bulkeley wrote some of its best prose; while his neighbor 
Stoddard and both the Mathers expended their energies upon what had 
become the pressing problem of how to adjust the ecclesiastical order to the 
new political situation, he alone raised his eyes to the universe and asked 
the stupendous question of who, in this cosmic bowling alley, bowled 
the sun? At his death in 1729 he left orders that his manuscripts should 
be destroyed. We need senously to ponder the spectacle of such different 
but authentic talents as Bulkeley, Taylor, and Wise living withdrawn and 
private existences today we can discover little about any of them except 
their writings while the Mathers, Colman, and Stoddard held the center 
of the stage. Yet only with the help of these recluses can we detect the 
subterranean currents that flowed between the era of Andros and that of 
Jonathan Edwards. 

The other figure whom the crisis of the Dominion summoned from 
what seems to have been contented obscurity was John Wise, and he, 
oddly enough, stood for everything in New England which Gershom 


Bulkeley most despised. Andros shouldered immense probably impos- 
sible responsibilities, and he needed money; he tried to get it from quit 
rents, by demanding a registration of titles to lands long since distributed 
by unincorporated towns, and by seizing the yet undistributed common 
lands. These actions were more than any moderate had bargained for. 
In 1687, his needs being great, Andros had the Council vote a tax levy 
(several Councillors were later to plead, not too convincingly, that they 
refused to vote) ; most towns gave in, a few demurred, but in Ipswich 
(Hubbard's town) resentment found a leader and became revolt. 

We know so little about John Wise that we are bound to make much 
of the fact of his father's coming to America as an indentured servant. 
He was born in Roxbury and somehow went to Harvard, where he was 
involved in a surreptitious and scandalous feast of turkey; other under- 
graduates got into similar scrapes, but there seems something peculiarly 
symbolic m the earthmess of this imbroglio. Wise was a big man, and was 
accounted a superior wrestler. Graduating in 1673, he was installed in a 
newly formed rural church outside Ipswich, generally referred to as 
Chebacco parish; there he disappeared dunng the hectic disputes over the 
Old South Church, the Reforming Synod, the fall of the charter pub- 
lishing nothing, evidently never giving so much as a lecture in Boston 
until Andros' attempt to collect taxes by fiat aroused him. 

In August 1687 (he was thirty-six years of age), Wise stampeded 
the town meeting with a harangue which, as it is reported, was decidedly 
non-theological. Several of the "principal inhabitants" had drawn up a 
protest, saying that Andros' levy abridged them of their liberties as Eng- 
lishmen, and that "that was not the townes Duties any wayes to Assist 
those ill Methods of Raising money without a General Assembly." Appar- 
ently there was hesitation among the citizens, but Wise carried the vote 
by proclaiming "we had a good God, and a good King, and should do well 
to stand to our Priviledges." He and five leaders were arrested (a strange 
colonial premonition of the seven bishops at Lambeth: "This is a standard 
of rebellion," King James was to shout), and brought to trial before 
Joseph Dudley, who then uttered words as fateful as his king's: you "must 
not think the laws of England follow us to the ends of Earth" 5 "you have 
no more privilidges left you, than not to be sold for Slaves." Dudley told 
the jury, "we expect a good Verdict from you," and they, under the cir- 
cumstances, gave him what he wanted. From jail Wise wrote an apology 
to Andros, acknowledging the folly of his action and begging for release, 
because he could get "But Little Sleep Sine I have Been your Prisoner 
Here in Town the pkce being so full of Company." The six heroes were 
fined 185 and costs, and Wise was suspended from his ministry. Al- 
though Andros soon restored him, by then the damage was done, and 
Dudley had done it. 

What he had done, in short, was to give to his fellow Americans an 
entirely new sense of the value of the rights of Englishmen; in a flash he 


set these privileges (which to the founders were incidental to the pursuit 
of holiness, no more than instruments for obtaining it) in a wholly secular 
light, as matters pertaining to prescriptive right, grant, and precedent 
entirely political in character, and to be maintained not out of Scripture 
but out of law, or else by stratagem. Furthermore, he instilled in the New 
England mind the henceforth unshakable conviction that any party which, 
like the moderates, invokes English support for domestic ends is inviting 
a foreign tyranny. In short, he made certain that the whole moderate posi- 
tion as of before 1684 should collapse, that every faction in America 
except for that minority of one who was Gershom Bulkeley would here- 
after have to concede that particular forms of government are not ordi- 
nances of God, that resisting lawful authority for the sake of protecting 
rights, whether prescriptive or "natural," is no rebellion at all. 

And precisely at this moment which otherwise could have become for 
the colonial mind an insoluble dilemma came the Revolution that for 
New England even more than for England was truly "Glorious." Back 
in 1637, when Winthrop disarmed the Antinomians and was accused of 
tyranny, he replied that his measures prevented a rising of the disaffected: 
"The wellfare of the whole is not to be put to apparent hazard, for the 
advantage of any particular members." Bulkeley and Dudley might regard 
themselves as the inheritors of this conviction: by this token the Ipswich 
protest, at a time when frontiers were ablaze, was a particularist assertion 
that deserved to be put down for the welfare of the whole. New England 
Puritans, it must be stressed, were not originally admirers of revolution; 
they were legitimists, as their effort to prove their churches not Separatist 
testifies. The colonies never openly supported the revolt of their fellows 
against Charles I as they were careful to stress in 1660. But in 1689 
they could greet a Revolution as nothing less than divine intervention (in 
London, Increase vaunted that Bostomans revolted for William "not know- 
ing that He was then King"), and from that time on, the respectability 
of revolt in the name of those principles asserted at Ipswich was some- 
thing no true New Englander could call in question, even though, within 
a few decades, there were to be some who cursed the day it became written 
into the tradition. 

For a century thereafter the New England mind could never cease mar- 
veling that just at the moment its burden had become insupportable, revo- 
lutionary England came to its aid not, that is, until this wonder could be 
replaced by the still greater marvel that the New England and Virginian 
mind should jump together' The sense that they had put William on his 
throne, that old and New England had shared in "the common Deliver- 
ance," made such a difference in the attitude of New Englanders toward 
the Crown as in itself to constitute an intellectual revolution. "Indeed," 
as Cotton Mather delighted to say, "nothing in the World could more 
exactly imitate and resemble the late circumstances of our Mother England 
than the Revolution here, in all the steps thereof and this, though we under- 


stood not one another." In fact, out of this consideration it could finally 
be argued at least in Boston that the Revolution of 1689 was not revo- 
lutionary that it was a spontaneous and instinctive, yet divinely guided, 
imitation of a "Noble and Heroick" example. Thus any discomfort caused 
by recollecting the founders* suspicion of rebellion could be quieted. 

For there was a larger issue at stake than even taxation or the rights 
of Englishmen, one that both Dudley and Bulkeley failed to appreciate: 
Protestantism itself. William of Orange saved the true faith from Louis 
XIV and the Pope. Actually, although the apologists presented Boston's 
outburst on April 18 as a popular movement, it was carefully planned and 
skillfully managed, to the point of having well in advance prepared its 
manifesto. The Declaration of the Gentlemen y Merchants and Inhabitants 
of Boston, and the Countrey Adjacent is the first of those transparent mas- 
querades in which Cotton Mather descended from the realms of the spirit 
to take a guiding hand in the sinful world of politics little realizing that 
he might not be able to reascend. He hit upon the one cunning device 
which could both reestablish a show of continuity with the past and yet 
present the uprising as an ultimate proof of New England's loyalty to the 
Crown: the whole sad friction that had come between the colonies and 
the mother country, from the Restoration to Andros, could now be inter- 
preted, not as England's effort to bnng recalcitrants into line, but as a plot 
inspired "by the great Scarlet Whore." The overthrow of Andros was, 
therefore, simply a rejection, in the venerable English spirit, of Popery; 
it was in fact a deed of sheer patriotism to prevent New Engknd from 
being "given away to a Forreign Power." 

The great virtue of this device was that it expunged from memory 
every consideration which had obliged the English government to vacate 
the Massachusetts charter and to attack that of Connecticut. If everything 
New England had suffered was not a castigation of its arrogance but a 
Catholic plot, then nobody need any longer heed the charges of Ran- 
dolph; every accusation of insubordination, every infringement of the 
Navigation Laws, now became a Jesuitical lie and the community could 
pick up where it had been interrupted in 1684, with the advantage of now 
serving under a monarch it adored. It could once more regard itself as a 
special people, distinguished above all others by having been the target of 
conspiracy; its destiny could again be presented as pertaining, not to the 
field of mere imperial policies, but to the exalted region of God's "con- 
troversy." New England could once more become the theme of jeremiads. 
In this sense, recent history could be made intelligible: the humiliation 
of New England under Andros was a covenant affliction, while William 
and Mary were a providential deliverance, according to the promise. Of 
course, with experience of the Dominion so fresh in mind, there was bound 
to be one emphasis in the account that had not previously figured so promi- 
nently: in this case, the restoration was not so much to orthodoxy as to 
the rights and privileges of Englishmen. No matter: if the liberation could 


be proved a simultaneous overthrow of both Popery and tyranny so much 
the better, so much the more legitimate, so much closer the tie that would 
now bind New England to the Crown' 

Working with yet imperfect reports of events in Boston, Increase 
Mather in July of 1689 cast off all recollection of what he had preached 
five years before, and forecast the next phase of colonial history by assert- 
ing the intimate dependence of New England upon the Crown precisely 
because "both the Charters in England and New-England, were taken 
away by the same sort of Men, and on the same Grounds, viz. in order 
to the Establishing of Arbitrary Government." As soon as he was fully 
informed, he rushed into print to link Boston's action with William's; 
when Palmer tried to assert Dudley's doctrine that the colonies are not 
parts of England and that therefore English liberties do not extend to 
them so that a Boston revolt cannot be defended in the same terms as 
one by Parliament Increase fell back upon a version of New England 
history which, after the two revolutions, appeared to be the real meaning of 
even the Great Migration: in 1630, no Englishmen in their wits would 
have ventured their lives to enlarge the king's dominions "if their Re- 
ward after all must be to be deprived of their English Liberties." No, he 
said, fashioning on the spur of the moment the song which neither he nor 
his colleagues could, for the rest of their lives, stop singing or resist in- 
corporating into their jeremiads "the New-Englanders in their late Rev- 
olution did but act in a Quarrel wherein they and all English-men had an 
Interest." Hence this "Happy REVOLUTION," as Cotton Mather termed it, 
was, to say the least, no innovation; instead, it made recent events intel- 
ligible, fulfilling the wonderful and secret design of God, wherein New 
England could enact a peculiar role in history, no longer at odds with the 
Crown, but having fully digested those elements of the Whig philosophy 
that triumphed with the Glorious Revolution. 

In this fashion in Increase Mather's telling the world that Andros' 
rule was at one and the same time a "Treasonable Invasion of all the 
rights belonging to the English nation" and "a Government under which 
Wickedness would be sure of countenance and Piety be as sure of the 
utmost discouragement" the leaders in effect incorporated the right of 
revolution into their creed without, as far as they could see, ever having 
resisted an ordinance of God. Ipswich, electing John Wise to the General 
Court, voted that the aggrieved selectmen should get revenge upon Dud- 
ley, an assignment which Wise cheerfully accepted. In all their charges 
against Andros, the colonists radiated a serene confidence that hereafter 
any who opposed them would be the veritable revolutionary, and a Tory! 

It all amounts to a complicated feat of the intellect, as ingenious as any- 
thing the founders devised when proving that Congregationalists were not 
Separatists. But it could be achieved only because of the great and central 
fact that William and Mary did save the Protestant succession, and in the 
glory of that achievement, lesser concerns of ecclesiastical polity could be 


relegated to details. By harping upon this interpretation, the Congrega- 
tionalists of 1689 could bury unpleasant memories; the "Envenomed 
Arrows" that had been shot against New England's tranquillity could be 
attributed to the "squinting malignity" of "the Frogs of the Romish 
Egypt." If the sole meaning, or at least the only one worth talking about, 
of 1689 was that a profligate Charles II and a Papist James II were 
miraculously replaced by a Protestant, uxonus and serious William, New 
England could go or at least ought to be permitted to go its own way 

There was, however, one condition that had to be not only fulfilled 
but repeatedly met, for otherwise the entire effort would collapse as 
fatally as had that of the moderates when confronted with Andros: New 
England's case would hang together only if at every point it contended 
that "there is nothing more to be demonstrated, Than that the people 
of New-England are the most Loyal People in all the English Dominions." 
The founders had professed loyalty; but before 1689 nobody believed the 
profession, or was expected to. If the protestation which now became the 
basis of communal integrity was to serve its purpose, it had to be sincere. 
Or rather, it had to sound immensely sincere. For this reason, because 
actions speak louder than words, the liberated colony of Massachusetts, 
having resurrected the government of the old charter, and while await- 
ing the grant of a new, threw itself with unprecedented vigor into mount- 
ing an expedition against Quebec. Our service to William and Mary, 
preached Cotton Mather, must be demonstrated not only by securing 
their interests in this land, "but also by making a brisk Salley forth upon 
the French Territories, which must else be a Perpetual obstacle to the 
thriving of these Plantations." It eluded him, as it did his hearers, that in 
reestablishing self-respect upon the basis of loyalty to William and Mary, 
he had also tacitly shifted the main inducement for fighting the French 
from the true order of the Gospel, or even from the survival of the saints, 
to a "thriving." 

The clergy beat their drums, sounding alike upon the appeal to Protes- 
tantism and to patriotism. In their relief at being able for the first time 
to identify the two, they did not perceive that by inciting this crusade they 
were accepting their role in the altered political order: they were assuming 
the function of advocates for causes already determined, and were no 
longer themselves formulators of objectives. To compare jeremiads de- 
livered during Philip's War with Cotton Mather's exhortation to the 
departing troops is to get a glimmering of what the Revolution had really 
wrought. "Certainly, My Countrymen," he cried, " 'Tis Time to Look 
about us, We are driven upon a purely Defensive War, which we may 
now make Justly Offensive to the first Aggressors in it." It was no longer 
enough to say, as had Bradford, that the grace of God will sustain saints 
amid hardships; loyalty to the Protestant Crown had to be more aggres- 
sively demonstrated: 


You are Fighting, that the Churches of God may not be Extmguisht, and the 
Wigwams of Heathen swarming in their room: You are Fighting that the Children 
of God may not be made Meals or Slaves to the veriest Tygers upon Earth. 

Thus an extended form of the jeremiad took shape in Mather's decision 
that we might repair many of our sins not merely by repentance but more 
cogently by conquering Canada; hence "we should forsake our soft Beds, 
our full Tables, and our Fine Houses.'* Prosperity would be less deplor- 
able if employed in William's just war. 

But alas the gulf that lies between just causes and their military ful- 
fillment' The expedition was a dismal failure. To reward John Wise 
for his work against Andros, the General Court had made him chaplain. 
We do not know whether he shared Mather's certitude that if all New 
England would pray, French devils would run, but when he got ashore 
with the second wave and found the men utterly disorganized, he blamed 
not the inadequacy of prayer but the incompetence of New England gen- 
eralship. Finding one company mired in a swamp, and telling them, "Gen- 
tlemen you are out of yor Witts we did not come hither to drive a parcel 
of Cowardly Frenchmen from Swamp to Swamp but to attaque Kebeque," 
Wise hunted out General Walley, a saint from Barnstable, and "was af- 
fected when I first saw him for to me he seemed very much down in his 
Spirit to say no worse." In the dismal annals of the American militia, 
including Bull Run, there is perhaps no more pathetic wail than that of 
Walley: "Saith he, I cannot rule them." And never from an American 
chaplain was there a less theological retort. "To whom I replyed Sr you 
must not expect when men are let loose upon an Enemie that they should 
attend all the Ceremonies martial and that are in fashion on a field of 
Peace." This was the rural agitator of Ipswich, and in his prescription we 
find an utterance which further demonstrates how inapplicable the old- 
fashioned jeremiad had become to the actualities of the community; Cot- 
ton Mather certainly had his work cut out for him as he dedicated himself 
to confining this kind of New England to the ancient pattern. 

I doe professe had we had a man that would have ventured his Life, his way- 
had been to have stilled all noyse got himself and army into a few hours Sleep 
sent on board and had ready one bisquet cake pr man and a good round Dram 
and have put these into their bellys the next morning & in the heat of it marcht 
up to Towne the Army would I am satisfied by their Valour have payd him his 
Kindnesse in good Roast meat for Supper by the next night and a good feather bed 
to have layn on instead of Boards or Straw. 

It is a far cry from Mather's exhortation to leave our sinful tables and 
houses to Wise's hearty acceptance of a dram in the belly and roast meat 
for supper; complexity and common sense had somehow emerged out of 
the simplicity and intellectualism of the covenant. 

Wise was given three hundred acres, whereupon he went back to 
Chebacco. But the new rationale of colonial existence, in the name of 


which the expedition had been launched, now faced the highly practical 
ordeal of paying its soldiers. The provisional government had no more 
money than had Andros. Since it could enforce no tyrannical levies, it 
resorted, on December 10, 1690, to issuing promissory notes, "bills of 
credit," to the amount of 40,000, which it ordered should pass at face 
value. Thus the reconstituted Puritan commonwealth plunged into the 
un-Puntanical realm of finance, and immediately confronted a law that 
had not figured in federal theology: paper money, backed by no security, 

For Cotton Mather, events between 1689 and 1692 moved fast. Hav- 
ing started down the road toward secularization by preaching this Cana- 
dian crusade, he had further to divert his attention from the state of his 
soul by composing (although anonymously) a defense of the bills, thus 
finding himself appealing to criteria not so concrete as Wise's but hardly 
less profane. It now appears, he said, that we cannot keep silver in the 
country (what had this to do with the sins of New England?); are we 
not then better off to have, and to honor, a currency of our own, which 
will be kept here "where it will (or at least) ought" to be accepted ,as 
legal tender? That he should have to distinguish, even parenthetically, 
between a "will" and an "ought" was, in 1691, a doud no bigger than 
a man's hand on the intellectual horizon; still, it was one thing to exhort 
New England yeomen to refrain from rum and fornication, and another 
to ask them to receive payment for scanty crops in money not worth its 
announced value. Moral persuasives had to come to terms with social fact: 
because we do not yet know whether we have a charter or not, the people 
imagine that we "are Reduced to Hobs his state of Nature," in which the 
strongest take all; but the bills are a draft upon the whole community: 
"All the Inhabitants of the Land, taken as one Body are the Principals, 
who Reap the Benefits, and must bear the Burdens, and are the Security 
in their Publick Bonds." The pull of this sort of argument was reflected 
in Mather's very language; profiteers who buy up the bills will finally 
lose everything: "Thus the woman shook her Dog by the Collar, till she 
made him Disgorge again all her Puddinge." Thomas Hooker might well 
have used such an image in a sermon; Mather could resort to it only in 
an anonymous deviation from his pulpit manner, speaking as "A well wisher 
to New-England." 

Though the invasion of Canada miscarried, the effort still had an im- 
mense propaganda value: New England had proved its loyalty. Biding his 
time in London, Increase Mather used it to plead for generous terms, 
because if "his Majesty shall graciously please to restore his Subjects in 
New-England to their ancient Priviledges," they will undertake a second 
venture, and should they succeed, "that would be worth Millions to the Eng- 
lish Crown and Nation" not, let us note, in terms of Christian virtues, 
but in "B ever-Trade," fisheries, and the "encreasing of English Sea-men." 
For the next generation, and indeed down to the Stamp Act, the memory 


of this gratuitous display of loyalty was assiduously kept alive by New Eng- 
land's apologists, although it never greatly impressed cabinet ministers. 
Year by year the contention grew that it should be accounted to New 
England for righteousness, until in 1721 Jeremiah Dummer brought the 
plea to a magnificent climax* yes, the expedition was a failure ("who can 
answer for the fortune of war?"), but it cost the colony 150,000 and 
1,000 men; nor, he added, were these forces vagrants and such as in 
England are picked up in disorderly houses, "but heads of families, artificers, 
and robust young men, such as no country can spare, and least of all new 
settlements, where labour is the dearest thing in the woild, because noth- 
ing so much wanted as hands." 

As the years unrolled, it was found that the substance of the covenant 
doctrine, mdissolubly wedded to a conception of the inherent rights of 
Englishmen, could be salvaged if only it could be dissociated from the self- 
government of the old charter and firmly attached to the Protestantism of 
the English Crown. William and Mary were thus not only instruments 
of a providential deliverance from Popery, they were moral sovereigns 
who recovered "the Married State, from all that Infamy, which the De- 
baucheries of the Two last Reigns, had been trying to cast upon it." By 
1701, William III had come to figure in the New Engknd mind as its 
appointed champion, for thanks to him "we are not Priest ridden by the 
Janizaries of Antichrist," and do not have "Nonsensical Figments thrust 
down our Throats with Burning Fire brands." When he died, every 
minister in the colonies climbed to the pulpit ostentatiously to lament the 
first sovereign to whom New England had been able to be loyal, for, as 
Wadsworth put it, he came to save this people when they "were in lan- 
guishing circumstances, almost quite depriv'd of Liberty and Property; 
having their Religion, Laws and Lives in utmost hazard; sinking under 
Arbitrary Power and Tyranny, almost overwhelm 3 d with Popery and 
Slavery." And what made gratitude all the more heartfelt was, as Cotton 
Mather could gloat, "You, O dear People of New-England, have your 
Share in this amazing Deliverance" in this single but manifold rescue 
of liberty, property, and religion. 

The chant was not only renewed but enlarged upon the accession of 
Queen Anne, and was still more vociferously raised when Bolingbroke was 
thwarted and George I mounted the throne. This succession, Cotton 
Mather exulted, definitely proves the existence of divine providence and 
foretends that Louis XIV shall never "arrive to the Universal Empire of 
Europe"; the death in 1715 of that "most Finished Representation of 
Satan that was to be seen on the Face of the Earth" again increased New 
England's already utmost devotion to Hanover, through whom we are 
secure "from a Despotick or Arbitrary Government, or having our Liber- 
ties Invaded by Papal Usurpations and Tyrannic." By 1716 Colman could 
see in the rule of George I a distinct covenant blessing specifically con- 
trived by a providence "concerning it self for and exercised towards the 


Professing and Covenant People of God." Upon that king's death m 1727, 
New Englanders mourned in language which makes strange reading to 
those acquainted with his character: "comely, florid Countenance, like 
David"; a man of wisdom, courage, resolution, steadiness, integrity, clem- 
ency! On and on the refrain was carried: "For what Province, subject to 
the British Crown," asked Samuel Fiske m 1731, "more values the Royal 
Family and Succession?" 

Today we may too easily doubt the sincerity of these patriotic profes- 
sions since all the while they were being uttered, the House of Deputies 
was refusing to pay the governor's salary; also, many of the loyal citizenry 
were piling up fortunes by smuggling. Be that as it may, a society's (like 
an individual's) image of itself does not stand in so simple a relation to 
how it behaves. The long-sustained rhetoric of excessive loyalty served 
between 1690 and 1730 deeper needs than excusing the General Assembly 
or concealing smugglers: it enabled a society which, upon the revocation 
of the old charter, needed to establish its identity anew, to avoid intellectual 
suicide and to reconstruct its personality. For one of the reasons why New 
Englanders could hail William III was that by the Act of Toleration he 
seemed to tell them that they could be let alone with their church system 
and all its problems. The deliberate obtuseness their public utterances there- 
after displayed toward religious stnfe in England, the calculated omission 
from their panegyrics of any mention of the Occasional Conformity Act 
or the Test Acts (about which they were well informed) reveals that the 
extravagance of their profession sprang from uneasiness* the more they 
praised the tolerance of the Crown, the less likely the Crown would be 
(or should be) to interfere in their ecclesiastical affairs. Every praise of 
William, the deliverer from Popery, every condemnation of the "Tory- 
Sachims," every identification of the House of Hanover with the House 
of David, only meant (it was to be hoped) the more "security of the true 
knowledge and worship of God among us." To praise the Georges for 
their "Catholic Spirit," for defending "a Righteous Liberty of Conscience," 
would be a way of warning bishops and governors that "we still enjov 
those precious Charter-Privileges, for which our Fore-Fathers left their 
Native pleasant Land, and came over hither into a miserable Thicket to 
procure." As Thomas Prince was at last to make absolutely clear, while 
bowing from his pulpit before the ascending glory of George II, our char- 
ter privileges and the Protestant succession "Both come and stand on the 
same Foundation." 

The Act of Toleration ought to have settled the religious problem : Con- 
gregationalists could avail themselves of the same terms accorded Dissenters 
at home. Indeed, as a matter of plain factual record, this is about what the 
next forty years amount to. But the intellectual problem was not so simple, 
and here again we have to distinguish between literature and life. Should 
the New England Way accept the status of a dissenting sect, should it 
settle down to enjoy this dispensation, it would admit such a defeat as 


even a regaining of the civil rights of Englishmen would not recompense. 
This was not a conclusion to which inheritors of the Non-Separatist logic 
could comfortably bring themselves, nor did they ever quite do so a fact 
in the realm of the mind which explains much in that of politics. Even 
while the new charter was pending, Charles Morton m Charlestown tried 
to send over assistance to the negotiators by advertising that New Eng- 
landers are "of the Church of England", lest this sound too grotesque to 
English ears, he quickly added, c< iin that they acknowledge the Doctrinal 
Articles of Religion" and do not, like so many who get preferments, preach 
Pelagianism, Armmian and Sociman heresies, or a spice of Popery. He 
may not have assisted Increase Mather's diplomacy, but he was serving 
notice that New England would not abandon that logic of the founders 
by which, as the "true" Church of England, they virtually excommuni- 
cated nine-tenths of the institution. In the Magnolia Cotton Mather care- 
fully documented this contention, never letting on that in the course of 
time it had become absurd. Yet on the other hand, neither he nor his 
colleagues wished to forgo the advantages offered by a tolerant Crown, 
and by 1715 he managed to reinforce his declarations of loyalty with the 
assurance that a Protestant succession, being on principle devoted to tolera- 
tion, was the best guarantee of New England's ecclesiastical security: a 
king so beloved will ever give "the Best Friends of His House" cause to 
rejoice, "Among whom, it is incredible, that the DISSENTERS who have been 
so Universally true to that, and His Interest, should not be regarded as a 
Body of People, too true Britons and Christians, to be Excluded from a 
Share in the Common Joy of their Fellow-Subjects." Thus by not quite 
admitting that they also were Dissenters, but rather by attaching them- 
selves to the Crown through innumerable oaths of loyalty, the New Eng- 
land clergy contrived that a royal indulgence should serve their churches 
in place of that bulwark their grandfathers had erected out of Scripture. 

But as early as 1690 one thing was clear. Both Mathers, although sepa- 
rated by the breadth of the Atlantic, had the wit to see it: New England 
could not take advantage of the Act of Toleration without proclaiming, 
along with its allegiance to William, its acceptance of the theory of tolera- 
tion. Writing in 1724, in the biography of his father, Cotton was to say 
that both Matheis began to change their minds during the 1680's a state- 
ment I do not believe. But it is a fact that in 1690 Increase whose ideas 
six years previously we have heard did present himself before Queen 
Mary blandly explaining that New England heartily concurred with the 
Acts of Indulgence and Toleration. Son Cotton got the cue, and in the 
same year, with equal blandness informed the provisional government, 
"For every man to worship God according to his Conviction, is an Essen- 
tial Right of Humane Nature." We should note this interesting use of 
"humane nature." 

Throughout his negotiations, Increase had a bad time explaining away 
the record of New England. He had to confess it a fault in the people 


"that in some matters relating to Conscience and difference of opinion, 
they have been more rigid and severe than the Primitive Christians or 
the Gospel doth allow of." Quakers and Baptists shrieked in all the byways 
of London that this was classic understatement. Increase was driven fur- 
ther to explain that fundamentally the churches of his country were one 
with the reformed orders of Scotland, France, Holland, Switzerland, ex- 
cept that New England "chooses to do that more Explicitly, which is done 
Implicitly in all those other Churches." He was saving what he could of 
the vision of a city on the hill; at the same time, confronting a govern- 
ment that had declared itself ready to tolerate dissent, he was suggesting 
that Congregationalism be regarded a local and harmless crotchet which 
might pretend that it was the fulfillment of the Reformation, but which a 
Protestant king could allow to have its dream. In all the history of West- 
ern Europe, there is hardly to be traced in so short a compass such a gigan- 
tic reversal as Increase Mather's repudiation of his father's farewell prin- 
ciple for the sake of preserving as much as possible of mere self-government. 

How did Increase Mather find the gall to say that admission to Congre- 
gational churches was so wide in 1690 that many Presbyterians, Episco- 
palians, and even Antipaedobaptists were members? Well, he said it, and 
he published it. He also said that New England had, "long before the 
Questioning of their Charters," come to "an Inttre Tolleration" of dis- 
senters. In 1686 he had written, and Cotton had surreptitiously circulated, 
A Brief Discourse Concerning the Unlawfulness of the Common Prayer 
Worship at a time when it seemed that Randolph might force them to 
use the Prayer Book; after the flight of James II, Increase hastily brought 
out (though still anonymously) a London edition. This proved an embar- 
rassment, but Increase was up to explaining it away: there is nothing in 
that book, he said, but what every Nonconformist holds; it is "A placid 
and modest account" of a belief dear to thousands who support King 

Increase was moving in a world where inconsistencies could be ex- 
plained away, but the issue was more squarely put up to Cotton by George 
Keith (then a Quaker), who took advantage of the situation to publicize 
the record. He smote the established order on the hip not only by retailing 
the hangings and whippings, but by calling the "narrow-spirited party in 
New England" the "Brownists" of Queen Elizabeth's days, who there- 
fore were not and never had been qualified to speak for Luther and Calvin. 
Furthermore, to cite their own account of themselves, they "have not a 
little degenerated, both in Doctrine and Life." Whatever Increase might 
be saying in London, he had been a persecutor; his son, by striving to ex- 
onerate him, "doth the more lay open his Fathers Nakedness." 

Cotton Mather was feeling the pinch; he mobilized three other minis- 
ters to issue with him a reply to Keith, and when Keith answered with 
still another attack (published in Philadelphia), calling their pretended 
antidote a "Poyson," Cotton himself was forced to disavow the actions 


of thirty or forty years past. "Tell them, That New England has Re- 
nounced whatever Laws are against a Just Liberty of Conscience." Thus 
Cotton Mather prepared himself or was obliged to prepare himself for 
the provision that any charter issued by William III was bound to contain, 
a requirement that liberty of conscience be allowed in the worship of God 
to all Christians except Papists. As soon as he learned of it. Cotton saw the 
point: "I feared, that the Zeal of my Countrey had formerly had in it 
more Fire than should have been , especially, when the mad Quakers were 
sent unto the Gallowes, that should have been kept rather in a Bedlam." 
Whereupon he resolved with himself, saying (not quite accurately), "I 
think, I am the only Minister Living in the Land, that have testifyed 
against the Suppression of Haeresy, by Persecution." 

Even so, we must give credit where credit is due : on Thursday, June 9, 
1692, Cotton Mather preached before the governor his father had elevated, 
Sir William Phips, and committed the new regime to tolerance. A civil 
magistrate must not compel men to a way of worship to which they are 
conscientiously indisposed; he must say, "as the King now on the British 
Throne," that he will not become a persecutor. A ruler is most properly 
"the Officer of Humane Society," but a Christian who does not conform 
to an imposed way of worship does not therefore break the terms on which 
he enjoys the benefits of that society. "A Man ha's a Right unto his Life, 
his Estate, his Liberty, and his Family, altho' he should not come up to 
these and those Blessed Institutions of our Lord." 

These are splendid words. We should not forget that Cotton Mather 
spoke them, but neither should we forget that he had come face-to-face 
with a dilemma from which he and other orthodox leaders were never, in 
his lifetime, to escape: they detested heresy, but could no longer persecute 
it; they could take refuge behind the new charter on the ground, as In- 
crease said, that "Your religion is secured to you," but they simply could 
not use it, as they had used the old charter, to condemn Anne Hutchinson 
or the Quakers. They would survive and would rule only if they learned, 
however reluctantly, to regard themselves as no more than a majority of 
Dissenters within the most loyal of all British provinces. 

Nothing in all this means that the dominant clique suddenly became 
whole-hearted libertarians, in 1708 Samuel Sewall refused to sign a war- 
rant for a Quaker meetinghouse: "said I would not have a hand in set- 
ting up their Devil Worship." For a long time * very long time Cotton 
Mather's brave words served mainly as a political device: they proved that 
New England was theoretically tolerant, but not that it actually tolerated. 
However, if only as a stratagem, the gesture served its purpose, as when 
Increase in 1699 assured Governor Bellomont that any godly man could 
honor another, "Suppose him to be Episcopalian, Congregational, Presbyte- 
rian, Antipedobaptist," The next year, Increase also asserted that there 
exists no Protestant sect but what "amongst them all, some with whom 
Godliness in the Truth and Power is to be found." By 1718 Cotton Mather 


could outdo even himself in writing to Lord Barrington, brother of the 
new governor (with each arrival, the protestations were intensified), that 
just as the people's welcome to Colonel Shute witnessed New England's 
allegiance to "our Lawful, and Rightful, and Invaluable King GEORGE," 
so also its churches, above all others upon earth, make the terms of their 
communion run parallel with those of salvation: "And Calvmists with 
Lutherans, Presbyterians with Episcopalians, Pedo-baptists with Anabap- 
tists, beholding one another to fear God, and work Righteousness, do 
with delight sit down together at the same Table of the Lord; nor do 
they hurt one another in the Holy Mountain." Had this boast corresponded 
to reality, New England in the eighteenth century would have outrun the 
aspirations of Roger Williams. But as Cotton Mather knew only too well, 
this sort of talk had several uses, the least of which was to bring about a 
happy communion with lesser sects 5 in brute fact, its pnncipal utility, 
year after year, was to retard, as much as was compatible with the pay- 
ment of such lip service, the increase of "dissent" inside New England. 
With 1689 the philosophy of intolerance collapsed, nor could it be re- 
vived; the Mathers demonstrated their perspicacity by becoming the first 
to renounce it. But in its place survived a determination to procrastinate 
extending actual freedom to Baptists or Quakers, or even to the Church 
of England, not because Congregationalism was any longer identified with 
an absolute divine prescription, but because it was a bond of union. The 
"standing order" henceforth was of value not so much because it was 
Christ's but because it was New England's "Way." 

Thus 1689 meant that two obligations were laid upon the New England 
mind: it had to incorporate into its social theory a fulsome declaration of 
loyalty to the Crown and to accommodate itself to the idea of toleration. 
Several decades were required for working out the task, although even in 
April of 1689 anyone could see that these were to be the conditions of 
survival. But also, the one great lesson of the Andros regime had been the 
preciousness of "Civil Liberties.'* After the revolt, while Massachusetts 
still had no legal status, there was every temptation to derive these liber- 
ties from "the light of nature," but considering how apt depraved human- 
ity is to pervert the notion of natural right (as Cotton said, some in New 
England took it in the Hobbesian sense!), Puritan leaders during the in- 
terregnum made a concerted effort to found them upon English legal tra- 
dition. Thus by proclaiming their utter dependence on "that brave Na- 
tion," they could all the more appropriate "those Liberties which are a 
rich Inheritance." They prostrated themselves before the throne, assured 
that they would not be left "without our share in the Universal Restaura- 
tion of Charters and English Liberties." If loyalty and toleration were 
the two principal gifts of 1689 to the body of New England thought, they 
were impositions from without: from within came the third acquisition, a 
much enhanced veneration for the prescriptive rights of Englishmen, never 
to be forgotten so long as memory survived of tyrants who had declared us 


"a People fit only to be Rooted off the Face of the Earth, and who might 
have been in Forwardness enough to accomplish That Rooting Business." 

Considering how little he had to bargain with beyond the argument 
that Boston helped enthrone William or that because the planters had en- 
larged the king's dominions at no cost to the Crown they should "enjoy 
those Pnviledges which by their Charter were assured to them" Increase 
Mather achieved a spectacular success. True, a governor was imposed 
(Increase softened that blow by managing that the first one be his crea- 
ture), and the franchise was extended, regardless of church membership, 
to all freehold estates to the value of forty shillings a year, but there was 
once more an elected General Court, with the House of Representatives 
having the great privilege of selecting (subject to the governor's veto) mem- 
bers of the Council, and the priceless privilege of controlling the purse. 
For this confirmation of civil liberties, conceding the principle of tolera- 
tion was a small price to pay. 

Nevertheless, many New Englanders believed Mather had conceded 
too much. Whether the opposition arose from the new-found enthusiasm 
for civil liberties or merely out of jealousy of Mather's power, it took the 
form of an attack upon him and his charter for having sacrificed, not reli- 
gion, but freedom. Increase came home to encounter the proverbial fate of 
the Massachusetts agent, to be reviled for his failures and given no credit 
for his successes. He set himself to defending his work with the help of his 
faithful Cotton. 

Knowing in advance that he would have a fight on his hands, Increase 
took the precaution of getting an endorsement from twelve English Non- 
conformists names greatly revered in New England, Bates, Howe, Mead, 
and Alsop who declared that minor inconveniences should be accepted as 
the best obtainable under the circumstances because the mam object was 
secured, "Liberty and Property, the fairest Flowers of the Civil State." On 
this ground Mather prepared his line that the charter was "a MAGNA 
CHARTA" whereby English liberties "and all Mens Properties, are Con- 
firmed and Secured." He did regret that the governor should have a nega- 
tive upon the choice of Councillors and upon acts of the lower house, for 
this, he confessed, makes the government "more Monarchical and less 
Democratical than in former Times," but still the people have a negative 
on the governor, and New England is more "Privileged than Ireland or 
than any other English Plantation, or than even England itself." What- 
ever his misgivings, when he could again use his pulpit for a sounding 
board, he insisted that the great point of the charter was that "a Governour 
with a Juncto of his Council cannot (as of late they did) make Laws, and 
impose Taxes on you, without your own consent, by your Representatives." 
Cotton Mather regularly seconded him: "We have a Royal Charter, which, 
Effectually Secures unto us, all Christian Liberties, and all English Lib- 
erties," and in 1700 was still exclaiming over the "Matchless Favour of 
God unto us, that we have our claim to English Liberties (though our 


Task masters Twelve years ago, told us we had Nonet )." Dudley's sneer 
would never cease to rankle; Sam Adams would know how to use it, and 
Thomas Hutchinson would find that he could make no headway against it. 
One does not exaggerate when saying that in 1776 New Englanders 
could take up arms against George III because in 1689 they had sprung so 
alertly to the side of William III. 

Much of the writing of both Mathers in the 1690 J s, and above all the 
Magnolia, is a sustained propaganda offensive to make the charter, with all 
its liberties, the standard of a new conservatism of the only "orthodoxy" 
that could be salvaged from the wreck of the old charter. If sober demon- 
stration of advantages would not silence detractors, then the Mathers would 
heap ridicule upon them for rewarding the instrument who saved their 
lands, lives, and liberties with the "cruel Malice and Slander . . . com- 
monly known by the name of Country-Pay," or would lecture that a 
"Murmmuring Spirit" is not the way to get more, or at last circumvent 
the intransigent with an appeal to loyalty: "Although the Govern our and 
Lieutenant Governour are not chosen by our selves; yet we have the Con- 
solation and Satisfaction, that they are chosen by the best King upon Earth." 
Very quickly it became apparent that the most telling argument for the 
charter was not so much habeas corpus and religious freedom as security of 
property: "And is this nothing," demanded Increase Mather, "that every 
Man may sit under his own Vine, and his own Figtree?" The Revolution 
of 1689, and more specifically the identification of the new charter with 
English rights, set this seal firmly upon the New England mind, that gov- 
ernment is, as every election sermon was sure to assert, "the great Buckler 
(when rightly managed) both of Religion and Property." The marriage 
of these two words became so close that one suspects they were fast becom- 
ing interchangeable. The founders had not been contemptuous of property, 
and had supposed that they could deal with it at no cost of holiness. By the' 
beginning of the eighteenth century, as New Englanders more and more 
linked religion with property, the second inevitably became the great con- 
cern which the first had been for Winthrop or Hooker. 

How rapidly the New England mind was moving into this new universe 
Cotton Mather himself made evident in 1692 in his major effort to assist 
his father by adventuring into a literary realm even more remote from the 
sermon than his tract on the bills of credit: he composed and circulated in 
manuscript four bestiary allegories, Political Fables. They are not literary 
masterpieces, but the point is that they tried to be, they aimed at, if they 
did not quite attain, wit and urbanity, and deliberately sought to be amus- 
ing. They were an effort to bring the manners of London to solid Boston, 
and if they are innocent of the deftness of MacFlecknoe, their spirit is as 
worldly. In the first, the inhabitants of New England are birds: "some 
catched fish, some lived upon grains; the woodpeckers also made a great 
figure among them ; some of them scraped for their living with their claws," 
and "Geese you may be sure there were a good store, as there are every- 


where." Increase is the eagle, who flies to Jupiter's palace to get a new 
"settlement," and comes back with guarantees that all strange birds shall 
be kept out of their council and that none shall disturb them "in singing of 
their songs to the praise of their Maker, for which they had sought liberty 
in the wilderness.'' In the second, Phips is a good elephant; and in the third, 
the party of Ehsha Cooke become ungrateful sheep to whom Mercury 
(Increase again) brings privileges above those of any other part of the Eng- 
lish nation. In the fourth, French wolves discover with glee that New 
English dogs are too busy snapping and snarling at each other to bother 
them. "This is a story so old, that, as the good man said, I hope it is not 

When we reflect upon Mather's Political Fables, upon both their content 
and manner, the real thread of the story of late seventeenth-century New 
England becomes not, as in so many accounts, a growth of toleration, but 
rather a shedding of the religious conception of the universe, a turning 
toward a way of life in which the secular state, even when embodied in a 
provincial corporation, has become central. In New England we can see as 
clearly as anywhere how Protestantism was imperceptibly carried over into 
the new order, not by turning from religion to an absolutist state, but by 
translating Christian liberty into those liberties guaranteed by statute. Which 
is another way of saying that religion became the support, not of Wmthrop's 
ideal city, but of property. Long before the conception of uniformity was 
shuffled off, that of economic regulation and the just price had been let go. 
Soon afterward, the philosophy of social status yielded to the ethic of suc- 
cess, and merchants who took advantage of the market learned to control 
congregations despite the clerics; the prestige of ministers still was great, 
but they would need every bit of it were they still to dominate. The 
Mathers could say that government should not consist of a party or a fac- 
tion, this was all that remained, a ghostly survival of Winthrop's doctrine 
that all should be knit together as one man. The clergy could preach the 
ideal of unanimity, but what could they do when their supporters became 
divided into furiously warring camps over such a question as the land bank, 
or when they themselves had to take sides? And what were they to do 
when others of the diverging interests accused them of serving the ends of 
only one element in a violently competitive economy? 

It is not fantastic to see in Gershom Bulkeley the last of the theocrats. He 
had become disillusioned with Puritanism and with Congregationalism, but 
only because they had moved away from the original ideals of subordination 
and submission. He turned, therefore, to the throne, believing it the only 
power capable of arresting centrifugal tendencies. Yet Increase and the 
other spokesmen also turned to the king not to Bulkeley's sort of mon- 
archy, but to one who dispensed charters and liberties. No synod could ever 
again speak with the voice of God, as Increase had almost made that of 
1679 speak; such assemblies could no longer be anything but arenas for 
debate and compromise. By the same token, government under a royal 


charter could not exercise the majesty of a Winthrop; it would have to be 
an affair of expedience, haggling, and of sparring with royal governors. 
The ultimate criteria would have to be, not the rule of Scripture, but of 
efficiency and diplomacy. 

The society of New England was no longer simple and uniform , by our 
standard, it might superficially appear in 1700 still uncomplicated, but rela- 
tive to what it had been (or had thought itself to be), a culture that con- 
tained a Bulkeley, a Wise, and two Mathers was already sundered. Parties 
and alignments were not drawn, as in the Antmomian crisis, on doctrinal 
issues; they arose out of social conflict. The vast inclusive framework of the 
New England mind, spread out in architectonic perfection, which supplied 
the pattern for the earlier part of this history, disintegrated speedily after 
1690, and by 1730 was virtually dead. Up to 1690, although the intellec- 
tuals had been learning from experience, they had been pouring their ex- 
perience into literary forms such as the jeremiad originally devised to 
accord with the now vanishing cosmology. Henceforth, they would have 
to rescue what they could of religion and morality by modifying those 
forms, or by finding others more pertinent to the social reality. Loyalty to 
the Crown, toleration, and constitutional liberties these were the pre- 
conditions of provincial culture. As for the churches, Cotton Mather in 
1692 foresaw the issue: the primitive church, he said in his oration before 
Governor Phips, cut off a thousand Hydra's heads without any help from 
penal laws 5 "it was by sound Preaching, by Discipline, by Catechising and 
by Disputation, that they Turned to flight the Armies of the Aliens." These 
words were still more prophetic than Mather may have realized, for they 
delimited the array of weapons with which, once the charter was established, 
in even a society so religious in character as New England, the religious 
authority could any longer effectively wage its several campaigns. 



professional pessimist obliged to confess that things 
are not so bad after all is in a predicament. Up to 1688 Increase Mather 
had preached an already classic series of jeremiads, much imitated by young 
men at Harvard; yet in 1690, in his effort to persuade the British govern- 
ment that it should resuscitate the "good and easie Government" of the old 
charter, he said that under it the country, far from presenting a bleak spec- 
tacle of degeneration, had prospered to a degree unparalleled in history, that 
never in so short a time had a region been brought from a howling wilder- 
ness into a "pleasant Land, wherein was abundance of all things meat for 
Soul and Body," 

Before 1684 the communities had been so self -centered that they never 
stopped to think how their self-denunciations would sound to non-New 
England ears. They got a rude shock when Quakers like Keith and 
Thomas Maule, taking the jeremiads at face value, proclaimed New 
England a sink of iniquity. Therefore it had to be explained that the 
jeremiad was a rhetorical exercise, not to be tampered with by "designing 
persons that are not great friends to holiness and righteousness," who, being 
ignorant of the innermost meaning, wrest the utterances beyond the au- 
thors' intentions, and so "that hath past for their Opinion, which only was 
intended by way of Admonition." Parson Nicholas Noyes of Salem con- 
fessed the basically literary rather than sociological character of the type: 
some "well meaning holy men, being of dark melancholy Spirits," little 
acquainted with parts of the world where atheism and iniquity actually do 
exist, had magnified the pecadilloes of New England, witnessing by the 
very disproportion of their distress the relative innocence of the whole so- 
ciety "It cannot with truth be asserted, that as yet we are as bad as bad 
can be; for there is real danger of growing worse." Even Cotton Mather 
had to check himself with the distasteful reflection that there was "propor- 
tionably" more piety here than anywhere else under heaven; in order not 
to supply the enemy with ammunition, he made the litany of afflictions be- 
come so rhapsodic a witness to "our being those Children, whose Nurture 
the Great God is very careful of" that it became a catalogue of blessings. 
For a Puritan to boast was considered bad form, but at the risk of incurring 
divine correction, Samuel Belcher in 1707 asserted that the colonial min- 
istry was godly, learned, painful, and "Condescending," and that even in 


Boston, where there was a deal of vanity, there was also a great deal of 

Thus after 1689, and especially after the charter, spokesmen for these 
provinces found their task complex: how could the jeremiad be so recast as 
still to serve the old needs, and yet be accommodated to the altered political 
situation? One answer might be to dispense with it entirely, to cease think- 
ing of New England as a peculiar people in a special covenant, and to de- 
vise other literary forms in which the issues of the society could be phrased. 
To some extent, as we shall see, the most astute intellects between 1690 
and 1730 were to do precisely that; but for certain purposes, no other 
form would serve, or rather the jeremiad was the only one available. New 
England could not be expected, just because the Bay had a royal governor 
and the Crown could disallow its laws, suddenly to root out the conviction 
that it was the object of a most peculiar solicitude in heaven. The people 
could not jettison their experience and commence overnight to look upon 
themselves as just another group of provinces, no different from Virginia 
or Barbados. No man and no society so disowns the past, even though 
in 1697 it might seem that in its degeneration New England had become 
worse than "those parts which were at first Peopled by the Refuse of the 
English Nation." Thus the jeremiad had to be refurbished; it had to be 
brought up to date on the matter of toleration and kept from encouraging 
the region's enemies, but at the same time it could not let go the delights of 
ritualistic condemnation. 

Increase preached cautiously to the first Assembly, explaining how they 
might still be intolerant in the midst of toleration : "You may by Laws not 
only Protect, but encourage that Religion which is the General Profession 
of the Country." The Assembly dutifully responded by enacting that idol- 
aters, blasphemers, and incestuous persons be punished as capital offenders, 
and provided that taxes be collected for ministerial salaries. For a moment 
the Mathers persuaded themselves that they were actually better off under 
the new charter than under the old, and in that mood spoke such praises of 
it as they could never take back. There was indeed "A Righteous and Gen- 
erous Liberty of Conscience Established," but the legislature might never- 
theless give a "Distinguished Encouragement" to the dominant churches, 
in fact possibly a more effective encouragement, "As far at least, as the 
powers of a Province Exceed those of a Corporation." It now wonderfully 
appeared that the Assembly would severely punish all the sins enumerated 
in 1679 and since then woefully increased, which would not be an invasion 
of civfl liberties but a happy exercise of the greatest of all the rights of 
Englishmen "That the People are to be concerned in the making of the 
Laws whereby they must be Governed." 

The Mathenan scheme suffered a serious setback when the Crown dis- 
allowed the capital punishment act (London was astute enough to appre- 
ciate that under the heading of subversive idolatry and blasphemy Quakers 
or even good Anglicans might find themselves, in the provincial sense of 


the terms, guilty). It was further handicapped by the strenuous opposition 
of an anti-charter party which so hated the Mathers as to resist any recom- 
mendation they supported. Some in this group were originally die-hard 
theocrats who should have supported the program of stnct moral regula- 
tion, but they were so set against the charter that they tried to prevent it 
from succeeding, even in the direction of their hopes. Other elements, 
chiefly Elisha Cooke, were inspired less by religion than by love of power; 
inevitably they would contest the Mathers in the name of rights and liber- 
ties. Once these became the slogan, the party offered a refuge for a few 
survivors of the pre-1684 moderates, because resistance to Increase and 
Phips now became a defense of native liberties against foreign aggression 1 
At the first free election, m 1693, the House left out ten of Increase's 
Councillors, and put in men like Danforth, Addington, and Browne; it 
tried also to put in Elisha Cooke, but Phips invoked the power Increase had 
attempted to keep from him, and negated Cooke's election. Thus, within a 
short two years, the internal situation took on a novel and ugly configura- 
tion: the parties became those of the Governor and of the House, the former 
centered in the eastern merchants, the latter relying upon the back-country. 
This alignment was thoroughly secular and cut across all religious con- 
cerns; it was enough to reduce the Mathers to despair, yet it marks, if only 
for that reason, a momentous shift in the intellectual history. 

To the Mathers, as Cotton had remarked, there remained but one 
weapon with which to check these developments the jeremiad. After 
Phips failed and was recalled in 1694, and after Stoughton, as Lieutenant 
Governor, admitted Cooke to the Council, they could do nothing but raise 
the ancient cry that "faction" is a sin, and sneer at Cooke's followers as 
"secret Enemies to all the Good Order, which the Ancient Constitution of 
New-England has moulded us into." By taking special pains to prove that 
they, champions of the charter, did not "go to set by an English Tender- 
ness of our Liberties," they managed again and again to demonstrate that 
the opponents were the ones not "Tender, and Tenacious of such precious 
Liberties, as the Country is, by a Royal Grant, at this Day, priviledg'd 
withal," and therefore "cannot be True to the Interest of the Country." 
By this logic, the best friends of the community were demonstrably "those, 
that most Vigorously Endeavour to Restrain, and Redress, and Reform, 
that Liberty of Sinning, which men are too ready to give unto themselves" 
or, in short, those who encourage and protect that order which is "the 
general Profession." By pleading for unity upon such indisputable proposi- 
tions as that drinking houses should be supervised, or family government 
encouraged and "oppression" redressed, the jeremiad could present Elisha 
Cooke as both profligate and unpatriotic, as one who brought down upon 
all the people both divine and political retribution. 

This being the most effective means the clergy could devise, for the re- 
mainder of our period they employed it, explaining constantly that while 
the charter regime holds dear our liberties and estates, "yet in themselves 


considered, and as they relate to us, they are a very Trifle, in comparison 
of the Object of divine Worship." Whatever furthered "due execution" of 
laws already made on behalf of the churches would be a service to God "I 
beseech your Honours in your Wisdom to meditate it, and by your Author- 
ity to see it done." Increase managed to inform even that easy-going 
Anglican, the Earl of Bellomont, that he should administer Massachusetts 
in the interest of Congregationalism, Cotton called for "a General Con- 
sultation, upon the Methods of Reformation" because "Conformists" 
who of course had full liberty of conscience "are in New England, Dis- 
senters." Where sin is tolerated, any ruler, charter or no charter, becomes 
infamous, and the principle of liberty of conscience did not mean that the 
civil magistrate had nothing to do with matters of piety. 

That the clergy were obliged to harp constantly on this theme, espe- 
cially in election sermons, suggests that legislatures and governors failed to 
oblige. Even in Connecticut, where officials were all of the people's own 
choosing, the proposition had to be vigorously defended that active political 
support of the instituted worship is not incompatible with the theory of tol- 
eration or a respect for English liberties. The state might still enforce sup- 
port of ministers and pass laws for the reformation of manners, see that 
true doctrine was taught and the sacraments rightly administered. If in vir- 
tually independent Connecticut the civil power fell short of ministerial ex- 
pectations, perhaps in both communities this fact is historically of less impor- 
tance than that the intellectual leaders could still continue calling upon it to 
act. Continuity with the past was thus maintained, so that even fatal con- 
cessions to constitutional rights and to toleration would not appear fatal. 
There was no open disagreement among the ministers upon this philosophy 5 
in the most acrimonious phase of his controversy with the Mathers, Solomon 
Stoddard came out of the wilderness to deliver the election sermon of 1703, 
and made Increase's point for him: 

Rulers are to be keepers of both tables; and as they must practice Religion and 
Morality themselves, so they must take care that the people do it; they must use 
all proper means, for the suppression of Heresy, Prophaness & Superstition & other 
Corruptions in Worship. 

Neither did Benjamin Colman, who figures in history as a "liberal," neg- 
lect in 1707 to affirm this sentiment. Cotton Mather held firmly to it, 
although he was to make greater and greater allowances; in his last days, 
as he trembled for the future, he left his testament in the biography of his 
father, which codifies this fundamental law of the provincial mind if the 
magistrates do not keep religion flourishing in the hearts of the people, "the 
Fault will not be in the New-Charter, but m Themselves." 

In 1692 Increase entertained high expectations of the Council, the up- 
per chamber in the legislature which, by the charter, replaced the old Board 
of Assistants; he considered the finest stroke of his diplomacy to be his 
securing for the House of Deputies the privilege of selecting it. He entitled 
his election discourse on May 31, 1693, The Great Blessmg y of Primtive 


Counsellors ("primitive" meaning as in primitive New England! ), and by 
so expounding the charter as to make the Council the hinge of all recovered 
liberties, tried to bully the House into reelectmg his choices. Councillors 
should be pious, faithful, and wise persons, who "will concern themselves 
to uphold Religion in the Truth, Purity and Power of it." There would be 
no danger of "Apostasy" so long as the Council was orthodox, let the 
House become what it might, thus "the Word of the Lord does Instruct 
this General Assembly, whom they ought to Choose or Confirm this Day." 
He told Phips frankly that the power to veto elections was something the 
governor would not possess "if any Interest that I was capable to make, 
could have prevented it." Whereupon the Assembly chose such "rash, 
heady, unthinking" men as Increase said would endanger the public weal, 
and so Phips employed his power. Henceforth the Council could not be 
relied upon. 

Generally they fulfilled one part of Increase's prescription: they were 
"men of Estate, and of some Port in the World," and were "advantaged 
by Liberal Education"; but only of a few could the Mathers say, as In- 
crease did of John Foster, that he was both "an hearty Revolutioner" and 
also "a friend to the Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Zealous for that 
Holy Order of the Gospel which has been Professed and Practised among 
them." In an astonishingly short time, Increase was appalled to discover 
that the rage of party conflict thrust upon Councillors a policy, as Hutchin- 
son later said, of keeping their seats by becoming of no importance. Never- 
theless, if the Council largely failed him, the fact that it was there, and 
that it was elective, helped Increase to insist that the regime was of the 
people, and therefore was duty bound to enforce religious laws on pain of 
offending that God who was still although through the medium of 
William III in covenant with them. The ministers could still agitate for 
their candidates lest the Lord be provoked to let prevail those wicked men 
who were plotting to deprive the House of its privilege and to put the choice 
of Councillors in the hands of a tyrannical governor. 

The great point repeatedly gained in these dialectical maneuvers was 
that 16841692 had not been a break. The wound was healed. New Eng- 
land was not after all like other nations, but veritably a chosen people, 
even though the terms of union now incorporated clauses inserted into the 
covenant not by Scripture but by the Privy Council. Connecticut, natu- 
rally, had less difficulty (despite Gershom Bulkeley) in carrying over the 
doctrine intact, and moving with it into the eighteenth century: 

Remember that there is a Solemn Covenant between God and this his People; 
God hath taken them to be his, and they have owned themselves to be the Lords; 
upon this Foundation stand all our Mercies, Priviledges, Enjoyments, and what- 
soever can contribute any thing to our present or future Felicity and therefore 
the recovery of us from all our Apostasies, and the maintaining and promoting of 
serious Godliness among us, should and will be the chief Scope of such Rulers, as 
make Conscience to Serve either God, or his People. 


But the life of the conception in both Connecticut and New Hampshire 
perhaps even in Rhode Island 1 depended on the success with which it 
could be supported in the Bay. In 1704 Samuel Willard took as his text, 
"we are a People in Covenant with God," and explained that he meant 
the people of all New England. As applied to the entire region, not to just 
one colony, the familiar logic was again spelled out. By the covenant "God 
makes over him-self to a People," so that they know the ways wherein 
"they may expect all outward, spiritual and eternal blessings." Because they 
live in the bond, they and they alone enjoy the Word and worship 
which are the means of grace, leading to their final fellowship with Him. 
They could be assured that God is faithful to His engagement, and break 
forth anew into hymns of religious patriotism : "O New-England, thou art 
a Land of Vision; and has been so for a long time. The Sun for one day 
stood over Gibeon, so has the Sun of the Gospel been standing over us for 
Fourscore years together." 

Furthermore, if the charter had not ruptured the covenant, even though 
the civil authority was not so pure an ordinance as hitherto, the obligation 
continued to rest upon the people themselves. Nothing would be further 
from the truth than to insinuate that the Mathers moved consciously 
toward "democracy," but in these circumstances, all the more because of 
their exasperation with the Council and the politicians, they were obliged 
to give to the national covenant a social implication that was a large step 
toward an identification of the voice of the people with the will of God. 
The whole populace "have deliberately bound themselves to a constant, 
faithful Compliance with these Terms"; hence the concern affects all 
classes "in their several Stations and Capacities." Obedience will engage 
God's blessing, and from every ill of the society or from every economic 
misfortune there is only one escape: the people must put away their iniqui- 
ties and set about the work of reformation "in good earnest." Sabbath after 
Sabbath, at lectures, elections, and conventions, even at funerals, the doc- 
trine was reiterated. In 1730 it was being pronounced with all the solemn- 
ity of 1692, that the repetition became progressively mechanical, the 
phrases stereotyped that in every exposition the preacher spared no detail, 
as though the audience had not already heard it a thouasnd times does not 
mean that the philosophy ceased to be useful. As long as it could stand, 
progress was possible. The social structure and the mentality, shaken by 
the Dominion and the Revolution, continued to absorb more shocks and to 
change at an accelerating pace, but while the over-all conception could be 
retained, even though only verbally, intelligence could cope with events. To 
out-and-out dissenters from the Congregational order, to Quakers and 
Episcopalians, to royal governors and to the Board of Trade, to a Jeremiah 
Dummer fled to the more genial world of London coffeehouses, the ra- 
tionale of the covenant was nonsense. That did not matter; these commu- 
nities preserved their personalities as long as they possessed a framework 
which validated their reason for being. 


The tyranny of Andros was, as we have seen, a punishment for breach 
of the religious covenant. An unshakable conviction gripped the New Eng- 
land mind (a conviction reinvigorated in 1776) that political liberties must 
be defended on both religious and political grounds together, largely because 
the jeremiads for decades hammered upon this as the moral of the Domin- 
ion. The day of humiliation thus became more and more an engine for 
mobilizing social forces. The provisional government, recognizing its effi- 
cacy, at once seized upon that most congenial form for celebrating the 
liberation; it issued a proclamation calling for a "Public Work of Reforma- 
tion," and everything seemed back to normal when the ministers could 
again denounce the population for falling short: " 'Tis you, that bring 
whole Armyes of Indians and Gallic Blood Hounds in upon us; tis you that 
clog all our Councils with such Delay and Slowness, or terrifies us in our 
most Rational Expectations." The people had lost "the most happy and 
easy Government in the world" because they frequented taverns; the pos- 
sibilities of divine correction now included, in addition to plagues and 
crop failures, such a political regime as Andros', which "has by the most 
impartial men been confessed to have become Intolerable." The way here- 
after to resist tyranny would be to heed the Synod of 1679. 

To keep the appeal alive, there would have to be a succession of further 
evils, and these were furnished in gratifying abundance: Indian wars, decay 
of trade, party squabbles. However, most of these were already familiar; 
the jeremiad labors under an inherent necessity to pile up its tale of woe. 
Cotton Mather, most expert of the practitioners, was driven to uncover 
fresh material; in the years after 1689, he added, for instance, the dwin- 
dling state of the Protestant interest in Europe, and called upon farmers 
and merchants to reform their manners in order to rescue Huguenots from 
French dragoons or to save the Palatinate. And at this point, searching for 
more and more effective lashes, he realized that there was one horror above 
all others which had not yet been adequately exploited witchcraft. 

There were sporadic cases of witchcraft in New England before 1688, 
and some ten or twelve executions. The wonder is that there were no more, 
for it was axiomatic that the Devil would try hard to corrupt regions fa- 
mous for religion. As Mitchell said in 1677, though we may have sup- 
posed that he could not reach so far, "New-England is but Earth and not 
Heaven; No place on Earth is exempted from molestation by the Devil 
and his Instruments." Perhaps the reason there were so few witches in 
New England during a century when hundreds were being destroyed in 
England and thousands in Scotland, Germany, and Scandinavia, is the same 
reason that, after 1637, there was so little Antmomianism or native Quak- 
erism: the people were good enough Calvinists to resist temptation. They 
might not always be able to refuse an extra tankard of rum, but this sin 
although it was the most plausible and the most enticing they withstood. 
Of course, as a crime it was, I need hardly remark, as definite and tangible 
as is treason today, and for rules by which to prosecute it, the New England 


mind accepted a vast body of accumulated precedent exactly as it did in 
trials for murder or theft. 

Increase Mather gave a new emphasis to the subject in his Essay for the 
Recording of Illustrious Providences: employing scientific methods to sup- 
port the covenant thesis, he showed that a federated people are bound to 
suffer such afflictions as floods, tempests, and diabolical possessions. The 
book could also lay claim to a special modernity: several of the most pro- 
gressive intelligences in England, many associated with the Royal Society, 
were striving to mobilize all Christians, regardless of sect, against the com- 
mon enemy of all churches, atheism. Whatever Increase may have owed to 
the manuscript of Davenport, he owed even more to Joseph Glanvil's Sad- 
ducismus Triumphatus (1681) and to the writings of Henry More and 
Robert Boyle; he demonstrated that New England was not behind the 
times, but was keeping pace with an enlightened movement that deliber- 
ately attacked the "Sadduces of these days" by proving the truth of witch- 
craft. If witches exist, atheists are refuted. Mather's diplomatic success was 
materially assisted by the fact that in the Essay he had joined himself to 
such leaders as Baxter, to men trying to persuade Dissenters to stop quarrel- 
ing among themselves and to unite on broader principles of piety, such as a 
stout insistence upon the reality of witchcraft. 

Hence Increase devoted great care to setting up rules by which satanical 
possessions might be distinguished from natural distempers. A mistaken 
prosecution of the latter for the former would, of course, play into the 
hands of the enemy. As a tactical device, he showed the largeness of his 
view by acknowledging that sometimes innocent persons have been put to 
death, or that there are instances of confession which are not to be credited, 
springing from "the deluded imaginations of mind and melancholy per- 
sons." However, there were trustworthy records of authentic confessions 
by persons "whose judgment and reason have been free from disturbance 
by any disease" (as in the twentieth century there were to be confessions 
of espionage upon which authorities act) . He could not certify that any in 
New England had yet seen a specter, since every narrative suggested that 
the apparition might be no more than "phansie." He was alert enough to 
insist that demons may transform themselves into angels of light and thus 
impose upon the credulous, and he perceived that devils most easily work 
upon those suffering the disease of melancholy, so that a course of physic 
"emetic medicines, clearing them of these melancholy humors" is a pre- 
ventive; but the best of weapons this was Mather's thesis is repentance 
and a confession of sins, exactly as called for in the jeremiads. 

Here, then, in 1689 was a sanction of the covenant that had been al- 
lowed to languish, but which might be invoked for rallying shattered mo- 
rale. Cotton Mather studied his father's hints as a lover does the whims of 
his mistress: the Essay called for further investigations. In the summer of 
1688, the children of a mason, John Goodwin, were afflicted with what 
was evidently a diabolical persecution; having in mind his father's re- 


searches, as well as the "pains Mr. Baxter, Mr. Glanvil, Dr. More, and 
several other Great Names have taken to publish Histories of Witchcrafts 
& Possessions unto the world," Cotton took one of the children into his 
house, and, at great inconvenience to himself and his domestic arrange- 
ments, not only accumulated data for a case history but cured the patient. 
The witch, Goody Glover, was quickly apprehended ; conclusive evidences 
were found images of rags and goat-hair which she had stroked by a 
finger wet with spittle and she was promptly hanged. Andros and Dudley 
could offer no objection to these activities, so that when Mather's narrative 
appeared, Charles Morton, James Allen, Joshua Moodey, and Samuel 
Willard signed a prefatory endorsement, making the book a manifesto of 
the orthodox. 

Mather's motive in writing Memorable Providences, Relating to Witch- 
craft and Possessions was twofold: on the one hand to disprove New Eng- 
land's provinciality ("Go then, my little Book, as a Lackey to the more 
elaborate Essayes of those learned men"; Richard Baxter willingly com- 
posed an endorsement for the London edition of 1691), and on the other 
to show that the afflictions of New England were augmenting because of 
its sins. Only when seen in the light of the situation of 1689 does this, one 
of the most notorious productions of the New England mind, make sense. 
As Cotton's colleagues put it, the book, by proving that there is a God, a 
Devil and witchcraft, thereby demonstrates that "There is no out-ward 
Affliction, but what God may (and sometimes doth) permit Satan to trouble 
His people withal", thus it summons us to the only possible remedy, to 
prayer and reformation, the never-ending inculcation of the jeremiads. 

To comprehend the Memorable Providences objectively a difficult feat, 
because opponents of Puritanism have poured their scorn upon it and 
would-be defenders have aggravated the problem by trying to defend it 
we need to remember that it was published two months after the rising 
against Andros, and that it was as much directed against his regime as the 
Revolutionary tracts. Mather gleefully reported that the bedeviled Martha 
Goodwin could easily read in the Prayer Book except when she came to 
direct quotations from Scripture; he said he would make no reflection 
upon this diabolical phenomenon, but then suggested that if any "incon- 
siderable men" were offended because he reported this fact, they should 
blame the Devil and not Congregational polity. Furthermore, he was 
careful to advertise that the "Magistrates" meaning the town officials 
had proved faithful to the Puritan code and had applied themselves with 
vigor to getting rid of Goody Glover. The moral for any chartered regime 
would be obvious. 

Lest the provisional government should miss the point, Cotton enlarged 
for the next three years upon the increased threat of witchcraft. Because 
the country had weathered the assault of Andros it was not to assume that 
it would no longer be assaulted: "we have lived in the Territories of our 
Enemies; and we can scarce take a step without Annoyances from the 


bloudy Murderers of our Souls"; all our sins have been "at least Implicit 
Witchcrafts." But while Increase was negotiating in London, there were 
other miseries to add to the roll call: disaster at Quebec; Indian outrages 
at Amesbury, York, Wells, and then at Groton, only forty miles from 
Boston. The charter, when it arrived, was a covenant blessing, although 
the failure to recover full independence was a chastisement; the strife that 
ensued was all too evident a curse. Thenceforth the enumeration grew 
by leaps and bounds: more massacres Oyster River, Lancaster, Andover, 
Haverhill, and in 1704 the most frightful, Deerfield; Dudley, who came 
back as governor in 1702 and promptly exhibited ingratitude to the 
Mathers (in which they saw one of the clearest signs of divine displeas- 
ure) ; military failures; violent controversies over Dudley's salary; attacks 
on the charter in Parliament; a steadily depreciating currency; terrible 
passions aroused by the land bank; real estate speculation. And all this 
while, the customary crop failures, epidemics, and shipwrecks. In 1697 
two students were drowned at Cambridge and an eight-year-old child 
accidentally killed his baby brother: "Is there not a voice of Heaven in 
these things?" Good men, like Foster, died; every funeral became an occa- 
sion to foretell more fearful deprivations. There were great storms, such 
as have generally proved "the forerunners of greater Calamities immedi- 
ately following them." And on October 3, 1711, Boston was half de- 
stroyed by a fire which consumed the First Church. Seen against the back- 
drop of all this misery, witchcraft at Salem was but an episode. 

In the 1690 5 s a certain caution was imposed upon the Jeremiahs by 
their awareness that harm might be done abroad. Samuel Willard deliv- 
ered three judicious discourses (Rules for the Discerning of the Present 
Times Recommended, 1693; Reformation the Great Duty of an Afflicted 
People, Setting forth the Sin and Danger there is in Neglecting of it, under 
the continual and repeated Judgments of God, 1694; and The Peril of the 
Times Displayed, 1700), in which he prescribed a technique whereby, 
under the royal charter, threatenings could be employed. The sequence of 
his titles furnishes the main heads of his revision, and the contents reveal 
that henceforth the emphasis would have to fall, not so much on sorrows 
already endured, as upon a prophecy of worse yet to come. When a nation 
enters into covenant with God, the scheme of history becomes a crescendo. 
Willard could not but recognize that a long succession of jeremiads had 
so far failed to work a reformation; however, in dealing with a whole 
people God works (as He may not with individuals) by degrees, because 
He must impress upon them that in public matters they constitute a single 
entity. The punishments affect "the body of a people" famine, pestilence, 
sword, captivity, bondage. The sin of an individual needs must "have a 
common influence, when it is a growing and prevailing malady among a 
people," because "every man as he is a member of the whole, and hath 
his outward concerns in the life involved with them, cannot but be touched 
and afflicted with the evils which come upon the places they live in, and 


will, without doubt, feel much of the smart of them." This administration, 
being agreeable "to the common sentiments of humane reason," requires 
a consistent policy, which takes the form of a gradual multiplication of 
evils, increasing m severity as the reformation fails to materialize. Other- 
wise, the lack of success of the Reforming Synod would recede into history, 
leaving serious doubts as to the method; but in such a perspective, that very 
futility became part of a divine plan, pointing to the inescapable conclu- 
sion that the ills of this society would have to grow worse until it at last 
would reform itself an act it is fully capable of, whether or not it can 
elect its own governor. 

In this conception, not only was the augmentation of disaster welcome, 
but it would serve as a spur to still more doleful predictions. For this kind 
of oratory, the frenetic genius of Cotton Mather was ideally suited: "Me- 
thinks I feel the sad Presages of it; I see the multiplied Invitations and 
Introductions leading to it." The sense of mounting intensity, of a drama 
annually becoming more critical, bore him ever upwards: "The Curse is 
not yet Executed on you; God waits one year after another, to see what 
will prove. But the Execution of the Curse, it is Nigh, it is Nigh, to 
you ... It won't be long before you are thrown into the Fires for which 
the Tares are to be burned." The more it became evident that a chartered 
government, even though the House and Council were made up of church 
members, would not or could not take the holy initiative, the more it be- 
came necessary to pitch the responsibility upon "the People of New Eng- 
land." The shift in emphasis was gradual, but by 1708 it had become the 
norm, as when Samuel Danforth denned sin as a "Common Enemy" of 
"all our Communities and Societies; a publick and open Enemy to us, and 
an Enemy to the publick interests of a People, as well as to the interests 
of private men." 

However, the preachers knew only too well that audiences, even of Puri- 
tans, can be bored by too much repetition. At the election of 1708 John 
Norton confessed that his Essay Tending to Promote Reformation could 
claim no more than a tendency: "I have said nothing, as to the Sub- 
stance . . . that hath not been before said." The jeremiads of 1710 to 
1720 are (except for some of Cotton Mather's) the dullest in the entire 
progression, and the most wooden seem to have been spoken in Connecti- 
cut, where, for instance, Samuel Whitman ponderously proved Practical 
Godliness the Way to Prosperity: 

If Religion do not Revive, the Land will become more Wicked: TKe Hand of 
God will ly heavy upon it still, and many of our Hearers will go to Hell. If 
Religion Revive, many of our Hearers will be Converted and go to Heaven, 
but if it do not Revive Multitudes of them will Perish for ever. 

Around 1720, as a new generation came into the pulpits, and as the chil- 
dren of a provincial rather than of a theocratic New England took up the 
chant especially those disciples of Cotton Mather who captured the Bos- 


ton churches. Cooper, Joseph Sewall, Prince, Foxcroft, Webb, Gee the 
clerical temper began to show signs of impatience. "The longer we stand 
it out, the greater will our Charge and Trouble be." By then there was 
clearly need for a rhetoric which would achieve what academic rhetoric 
had so far failed to achieve; there was wanted someone who could make 
language convey the terror which a jog-trot "We are all very Sensible 
of the Decay fallen on Religion" would not. In the 1720's, Cooper, Sewall, 
and Prince were striving manfully at the task. 

During this period the provincial jeremiad developed two further asser- 
tions which were to play a part in the intellectual future. By its very na- 
ture, the jeremiad is under obligation to look simultaneously backwaid and 
forward back to the purity from which the people have degenerated, ahead 
to the ultimate vengeance. The founders had displayed, as did Richard 
Mather, a disposition to treat their colleagues as Christian nonpareils; to 
rally the second generation by the standard of an absolute perfection in- 
carnated in their fathers was natural for Increase Mather. But after 1689, 
idealization of the founders became an obsession, and from the first decade 
of this provincial regime we must date that species of ancestor worship 
which some believe is today the only surviving vestige of Puritan piety. 

Joshua Scottow, not expecting much from Increase Mather's exertions 
in 1691, published Old Men's Tears for their own Declensions, and in 
1694 A Narrative of the Planting of the Massachusetts Colony. These are 
charming elegies: "The Lord took delight in our Fathers, and they in 
him"; they were partakers of the Divine Nature, and served God "with- 
out Large Chambers, or Windows Cieled with Cedar, or painted with 
Vermillion." And what have we to show for our advances in interior deco- 
ration? "Now the Scene of Affairs is turned, we are made a Spoil to our 
Haters, to our Popish and Pagan Neighbours, a Derision, we are sold and 
scattered among the Heathen." Afflictions might be borne were we half 
the men our fathers were; but the explanation for our miseries is all too 
evident: "Whatever Piety your Fathers pretended in the Pia Mater of 
their Brains, to be sure it is Ardled into impious matter of Devilism, in 
their Childrens crack'd Crowns." Old Joshua is welcome relief from the 
more clerical accounts, if only for the liveliness with which he describes 
the provoking sins: "strange and fantastick Fashions and Attire, naked 
Backs, and bare Breasts and Foreheads, if not of the whorish Woman, 
yet so like unto it as would require a more than ordinary Spirit of Dis- 
cerning to distinguish." 

The Mathers avoided such anatomical references, but found the tempta- 
tion irresistible, after Cooke began badgering Increase, to thrust home 
the declension thesis by comparing the present epigones with "that Great- 
ness, and Goodness, which adorned our Ancestors." Ringing his peculiar 
changes on Stoughton's dictum, Cotton descanted upon the "Visible 
Shrink" from "the First Grain, that our God brought from Three 
Sifted Kingdoms." By 1700 Increase, being one of the few survivors of 


even the second generation, virtually put himself m the posture of an ances- 
tor, regularly predicting his own death and calling upon younger people 
to emulate his resignation. By this time, a standard paragraph in every 
jeremiad reminded New Englanders that they were the posterity of mag- 
nificent ancestors, but that they were a disgrace to their derivation. 

Well then, at the other end of the spectroscope, how far could they de- 
scend? By 1700 the jeremiad threatened to become a sterile form because 
it could contemplate nothing but an indefinite declension which, in a 
sense, was effectively to discourage anybody's bestirring himself. A society 
accepts the fact that there is a great deal of ruin in it unless the threat 
of cataclysm comes too near. Could this society continue interminably un- 
der the prediction of greater and greater judgments without confronting 
the greatest of all? Was not the only resolution for the ever-expanding 
jeremiad the actual end of the world itself? If these predictions were not 
to fall of their own weight, would not that end have to come within a 
calculable future? 

Several preachers were carried by such logic into proclaiming it: when 
persons or provinces have contracted the guilt of so many provocations, 
said Peter Thacher in 1708, "they must justly fear their next shall be 
their last." But one of the clues to this difficult period is the fact that prac- 
tically all spokesmen held back from naming too precisely the day of 
doom. There were two exceptions' Increase and Cotton Mather. They 
took the leap, and by 1710 were regretting that "this Doctrine is no more 
inculcated by the present Ministry." 

Increase always insisted that the doctrine of the millennium was a 
teaching of "the first and famous Pastors in the New-English Churches." 
This is one of those half-truths of which he was so prolific that several 
of his contemporaries preferred to call him a liar outright. In Calvinist 
circles of 1630, speculation about the end of the world particularly as 
to whether the second coming of Christ was to precede or follow the 
millennium had become highly suspect. Protestants had discovered, as 
Augustine in his day ha'd learned, that both opinions are easily translated 
into revolutionary action; the subtlety of Satan, as Increase put it, had 
cast the blemish of "the wild Phansies of Enthusiasts" upon all Chiliast'c 
opinion. Increase had to separate himself from those "late French ec- 
staticks and Enthusiasts" who recently in London ran wild with their 
expectation of the final catastrophe (the same whom Charles Chauncy 
was to invoke against Edwards) . Increase Mather knew all this, yet there 
was something in him and in his son that impelled them along the danger- 
ous road. Increase's first book, in 1669, was an investigation into the con- 
version of the Jews, which in the traditional Chiliast mythology is to in- 
augurate the last days. The two Mathers were, in this respect at least, 
peculiar in New England, possessed by the true apocalyptic spirit, they 
marched into the Age of Reason loudly crying that the end of the world 
was at hand. 


However, outside New England they were, as they knew, in good com- 
pany. One of the more curious phenomena in Western thought is the 
assiduity with which, in the late seventeenth century, leaders of the new 
science devoted themselves to proving that modern physics not only con- 
firmed but actually contrived a final conflagration. Three years before the 
Great Migration, George Hakewill, in a work known at Harvard, An 
Afologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Gov- 
ernment of the World, had tried to rally all good Aristotelians against the 
new science on the grounds that it was raising a horrible belief m the 
"perpetuitie and continuance" of the world. But even he was so much in- 
fected with the heresy that he made haste to extricate himself (as did Wig- 
glesworth in New England's first best-seller, The Lay of Doom) by fall- 
ing back upon a faith in sheer arbitrary intervention the light and the 
blast that shall break forth upon an unpredictable midnight. But in 1681 
Thomas Burnet came to the rescue with an impressive demonstration that 
destruction of the globe could be put upon a scientific basis; The Sacred 
Theory of the Earth provided a physical explanation, fires at the center of 
the globe, for both the Deluge and the Judgment. In the 1690's John 
Ray accounted for both dread occurrences on a still more persuasive hypoth- 
esis, a shift in the center of gravity; in 1696, William Whiston, Lucasian 
Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, in A New Theory of the Earth, 
conclusively raised the flood and consumed the earth through the agency 
of a comet. The greatest intellect of the age, Sir Isaac Newton, allowed 
that either Ray or Whiston might be right. 

All these works were perused in America. Increase respected Burnet's 
great learning, and felt that Ray "Answers Dr. Hakewills objections"; 
at the Harvard Commencement of 1717 President Leverett made a Latin 
speech "taking the Whistonian Notion about the Flood." If there was the 
least suspicion that these investigations were unbecoming the dignity of 
scholars, there was always the example of "the Incomparable Sir Isaac 
Newton," who, after writing the Princifia, devoted the second half of his 
life to studying the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies, and so came to a firm 
conclusion, "the last age is now approaching." Yet there was always a 
danger in these conjectures of that distemper which Cotton Mather named 
"Hypothesimania" that is, that they might altogether exclude God from 
the action. The Mathers were probably not familiar with William King's 
"The Battle Royal," but they would have agreed with him (and with 
wits like Jonathan Swift) that both Burnet's and Whiston's physics im- 

That all the books of .Moses 
Were nothing but suffoses, 
That he deserved, rebuke, Sir 
Who wrote the Pentateuch, Str, 
'Tzoas nothing but a sham. 


It might be but a short step to declaring openly, 

That as for Father Adam 
And Mrs. Eve> his Madame 
And what the devil sfoke, Str 
'Twas nothing but a joke, Sir 
And well-invented flam. 

Cotton's way of putting it was to cite the musician who defined the soul 
as a harmony, which hypothesis "had a Tincture of his own Profession 
in it"; likewise were the theories of physicists tainted. Therefore it was 
deemed necessary in New England to insist that whatever "second causes" 
were to be involved, there was still sufficient power to bring about the 
event in what Blackmore called "Heav'ns Mighty Voice." 

We utterly misunderstand the age if we suppose that for the Mathers 
this meant a surrender of the scientific intellect. On the contrary, theirs 
was a concerted effort, as Increase said in one of his finest sentences, to 
keep up the conviction that the Deluge and the end "are things intelli- 
gible." Wherever in history the conception of the termination is taken 
seriously, there is always the insistence that events are purposeful. When- 
ever it is also attached to the doctrine of the millennium, it becomes, by 
defining the corporate goal, a 'judgment upon spciety. A purpose and a 
judgment were what New England desperately required; Increase found 
them m what his son aptly termed "Sober Chiliasm." This was not, let us 
be clear, a form of fi deism; it meant: 

Look as God hath stretched the Firmament over this natural World, and hath 
placed the Stars there to be for Signs as to Natural Events in the ordinary course of 
Providence; so hath he stretched out the Expansum of his Word over the Rational 
World, and therein set his Statutes and his Judgements, from whence the wise- 
hearted may conjecture what is like to come to pass. 

Life in this America, so the Mathers perceived, could not be carried on 
without at least some reasonable assurance of what was likely to happen. 

The opinion to which the Mathers subscribed is generally known as 
"pre-millennialism"; that is, Christ will physically appear, the earth will 
be refined but not consumed by fire, and for a thousand years paradise 
will reign. Satan with all his power and party (i.e., Rome) will be 
"Chased off the Face of the Earth," and the remaining society will be 
everything to which the jeremiads 4 summoned New England. As a young 
man at Harvard, Increase, like the other Puritans, had not been a ChuV 
ast, but he came to it (significantly enough after the Restoration of 
Charles II) by- what Cotton described as "the Delectable Study of the 
Prophecies." He was further confirmed by discovering the doctrine of 
the millennium to be that for which Satan has a peculiar spite, and "that 
but few Papists have been Chiliasts." But the great effort which both 


of them invested in this conception is not to be ascribed to their scholar- 
ship or even to their peculiar temperaments: it arose out of their experi- 
ence, and may be called the supreme symbol of their patriotism. The only 
check upon approaching disaster was reformation, which did not come; 
even had it come, it would have been at best a temporary halt on the road 
to destruction. Therefore the ultimate goal of the jeremiad, pushed to the 
limit, would have to be the Judgment, when the complete and enduring 
reformation would be wrought and this would require divine aid. Then, 
only then, would the jeremiads secure their objective: then devils like 
Louis XIV and Elisha Cooke would be bound, and "there shall be only 
Good men Entrusted with the Government of their Neighbour-hood." 

If, on the one hand, the doctrine supplied the Mathers' jeremiads with 
the threat above all threats "They shall be Sentenced to be burnt to 
Death, and that with an Everlasting Fire, ten thousand times hotter 
than Nebuchadnezzars Furnace" on the other hand, Cotton said that 
his father (and by implication himself), through much meditation upon it, 
"sailed so near to the Land of Promise, that he found the Balsamic 
Breezes of the Heavenly Country upon his mmd, which, where they come, 
usually Refine and Sweeten, and Marvellously Purify the Souls that are 
Favoured with them." In these moments, the discomforts and imperfec- 
tions of America dropped away "But, How Long, O Lord, Holy and 
True; How Long, How Long!" 

Out of that cry was born the impulse for the Mathers as for Newton 
to prove by all close computation that there "are more than Twelve 
Hundred and Sixty Reasons to make One think, that the Century is begun 
which must see this amazing Revolution." (Can one indeed begin to com- 
prehend the eighteenth century, with its ultimate revolutions, unless he 
recognizes the apocalyptic spirit in which it was conceived?) From 1693 
on, the Mathers hourly expected the day; like Newton, they were con- 
vinced that most of the prophecies had been fulfilled, that the new century 
was bound to be "the most wonderful Age that ever was since the World 
began." By 1710, in the finest of his Chihastic hymns, A Discourse Con- 
cerning Faith and Fervency in Prayer, a long-drawn-out dramatization of 
his death, Increase cried, "I Dye in the Faith of the Speedy accomplish- 
ment of those glorious Things." A year before his own death, Cotton 
Mather said that the coming of Christ is not "a Metaphor" it is "the 
Next Thing that is to be look'd for." 

The Mathers made this doctrine so prevalent, at least in Boston, that 
in 1708 Mr. Pemberton's maid, seeing the light of a burning warehouse 
reflected on a black cloud, "came crying to him under Consternation; 
supposing the last Conflagration had begun." For ordinary homiletic pur- 
poses, it led logically to the exhortation that New England should "Ante- 
date" the millennium as far "as may be Consistent with our present Cir- 
cumstances." But the final purpose of the entire doctrine was to give mean- 
ing, cosmic meaning, to precisely those distressing circumstances. While 


preaching the millennium, as at no other time, Increase would look down 
upon the banterers and scoffers who jeered at New England as the self- 
styled New Jerusalem: let us strive after a conformity to it, and "let the 
Ishmaelites of the world Mock on." For as Cotton said, according to sober 
Chiliasm, "AMERICA is Legible in these Promises." 

This pattern of the jeremiad, reworked to fit the circumstances of a 
province, informs at every point the most imposing of them all, Magnolia 
Ckristi Americana. It is the fullest assertion of colonial loyalty, accepting 
completely the fact of toleration; it stands firm upon English liberties and 
fights unremittingly against the enemies of Increase's charter; it defends 
the virtuousness of New England and condemns New England's depravity; 
a massive appeal to the government (especially the Council) to implement 
the public reformation, it nevertheless places the responsibility squarely 
upon the people; the most unflinching chronicle of New England's woes 
and sins, it is a monumental piece of ancestor veneration, full to the brim 
of "Hero's worthy to have their Lives written"; and it is, finally, fraught 
throughout with a sense of the impending destruction of the world where- 
fore these things must be so quickly recorded. It is a summation and syn- 
thesis of the New England apocalypse; it took three years to write, but 
all the country's experience to produce. The author lived in an agony of 
anticipation while his Gargantuan manuscript, too large for any American 
press, was shipped to England; he committed it to the Lord, and received 
back special assurances that the Lord would accept it, "and preserve it, and 
publish it, and that it shall not be lost." ("But, if it should miscarry after 
all, O my God, My God, what Confusion would ensue upon me!") The 
Lord disappointed his "particular faith" that his wife would live, but even 
while she was sinking, He delivered into the hands of Cotton Mather the 
first copy (with all its misprints), who thereupon set apart a day of thanks- 
giving for "the Harvest of so many Prayers, and Cares, and Tears, and 
Resignations." To the end of his life he felt it no violation of modesty to 
quote the opinion of the great Alsop that the work would not admit of 
abridgment, for "No man that has a Relish for Piety or Variety can ever 
be weary of Reading it." 

Although, as Increase bemoaned, most of the clergy would not venture 
with him into Chiliastic regions, Judge Samuel Sewall was also a profound, 
if amateur, student of prophecies; he too had suffered when Andros humili- 
ated New England, and had grieved over the sins of the land. In 1697 
he felt that upon certain difficult passages in Revelation he had acquired 
light, and so published a few lines "toward a description of the New 
Heaven." The jeremiad, with its arraignment of defects and blemishes, 
hardly seems a suitable vehicle for celebrating a sensuous love of the land; 
yet when resonant enough, linked to the cadences of the millennium, de- 
nunciation revealed its real tonality. The most renowned of New Eng- 
land poets, Anne Bradstreet, being an immigrant, wrote only of English 
streams and English birds; but while meditating as one who stood entirely 


"upon the New Earth" about the part New England should play in the 
new heaven, Sewall bethought himself of Mary Brown, the first-born of 
Newbury, who still lived as the mother of many children on Plum Island, 
where he as a boy had played; he yielded as no Puritan could have con- 
trived to do without subsuming his love under a millennial destination to 
that delight in the American prospect which for over half a century had 
been perversely nourished under the canopy of the jeremiads: 

As long as Plum Island shall faithfully keep the commanded Post; Notwith- 
standing all the hectoring Words, and hard Blows of the proud and boistrous 
Ocean, As long as any Salmon, or Sturgeon shall swim in the streams of Merri- 
mack; or any Perch, or Pickeril, in Crane-Pond, As long as the Sea-Fowl shall 
know the Time of their coming, and not neglect seasonably to visit the Places 
of their Acquaintance: As long as any Cattel shall be fed with the Grass growing 
in the Medows, which do humbly bow down themselves before Turkie-Hill; 
As long as any Sheep shall walk upon Old Town Hills, and shall from thence 
pleasantly look down upon the River Parker, and the fruitfull Marishes lying 
beneath; As long as any free and harmless Doves shall find a White Oak, or other 
Tree within the Township, to perch, or feed, or build a careless Nest upon; and 
shall voluntarily present themselves to perform the office of Gleaners after Barely- 
Harvest; As long as Nature shall not grow Old and dote; but shall constantly re- 
member to give the rows of Indian Corn their education, by Pairs. So long shall 
Christians be born there, and being first made meet, shall from thence be Trans- 
lated, to be made partakers of the Inheritance of the Saints in Light. 

If our patience be large enough it requires much' we may come, 
through this astonishing paean of Sewall's, to a divination of the hidden 
import of the sermons. It is a revelation of what, in America, happened 
to the covenant theology. In the guise of a millennial faith, it became 
possible at least this once to embrace Turkie-Hill, the barley-harvest 
and the twin rows of Indian corn. Even as Sewall was singing these words 
to himself, and scrupulously scoring their melody with his punctuation, 
Cotton Mather was bundling up the bale of manuscript that constituted 
the Magnolia and entrusting it to the Atlantic Ocean. This, the most sus- 
tained of jeremiads, resounds from beginning to end with "the Wonders 
of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION, flying from the Depravations of Europe, to 
the American Strand." 




most curious of all the facts in that welter we call 
Salem witchcraft is this: if you expunge from the record those documents 
that arise directly out of the affair, and those which treat it historically, 
like the Magnolia or Bale's and Calef's accounts, and a few twinges of 
memory such as appear in Sewall's Diary, the intellectual history of New 
England up to 1720 can be written as though no such thing ever hap- 
pened. It had no effect on the ecclesiastical or political situation, it does 
not figure in the institutional or ideological development. Aside from a few 
oblique lamentations in election sermons (briefly noted amid the catalogue 
of woes), for twenty-eight years this cataclysm hardly appears in the rec- 
ord until summoned from the deep by opponents of inoculation as a stick 
to beat the clergy for yet another "delusion." Only in 1721 does it begin 
to be that blot on New England's fame which has been enlarged, as much 
by friends as by foes, into its greatest disgrace. 

To this statement, there is one qualification: after 1692, not only is 
the episode seldom referred to, but the very word witchcraft almost van- 
ishes from public discourse. While the clergy were steadily expanding the 
list of possible afflictions which would surely befall the community, the 
place reserved by Cotton Mather's Memorable Providences for the threat 
of demonic intervention is suddenly vacated. This silence speaks volumes: 
although new and fascinating abuses are relentlessly explored, no one any 
longer tries to induce a confession of sinfulness by predicting a spate of 


I do not need to demonstrate that belief in witchcraft was, for the 
seventeenth century, not only plausible but scientifically rational. No more 
tedious pages exist than those devoted to the thankless task of exonerating 
the Puritans, on this score, from the charge of superstition. Despite such 
efforts, thousands of Americans are still persuaded that Cotton Mather 
"burned" witches in Salem; further refutation becomes a bore. Still, it 
is difficult to see clearly and objectively just what was involved; language 
itself proves treacherous, and analysis rebounds upon the analyst. Critics 
of the Puritan priesthood often children of that caste have wrenched 
the story from its context; sober historians, trying to restore the true set- 
ting, slide into the accents of apology and gloss over a crime. One may 
appreciate that witchcraft was as real an offense in 1692 as murder or trea- 


son and yet remain profoundly convinced that what went wiong at Salem 
is something for which Puritanism and New England are justly to be in- 
dicted, not in terms of a more "enlightened" age, but specifically in their 
own terms in those of the covenant. 

I dislike dissociating myself from previous scholarship, but many stu- 
dents, including some who strive to place these occurrences within the 
intellectual frame of the period, fail to consider them in relation to the 
whole scheme of thought. They have read the contemporaneous literature 
of witchcraft, but not the weekly sermons. We shall avoid confusing our- 
selves by an irrelevant intrusion of modern criteria only when we realize 
that what struck Salem Village was intelligible to everybody concerned 
instigators, victims, judges, and clergy within the logic of the covenant. 
That in the end the irruption nearly wrecked this intellectual structure 
that it left the scaffolding dangerously shaken and out of kilter is its 
deepest meaning in the actual language of the community. 

Let us remember, without concerning ourselves about the psychosis of 
the hysterical girls who precipitated the panic by their reckless accusations 
of an array of tormentors, that an appearance of witchcraft among the 
afflictions of New England was from the beginning as much to be antici- 
pated as Indian raids; by 1692 several instances had been encountered, 
and a more organized assault was altogether predictable. Some in Salem 
Village may have read Memorable Providences, but they needed no book 
to set them off. Accusations and interrogations were already in 'train 
when the former minister, Deodat Lawson, came back to the town from 
Scituate to deliver a Thursday lecture, on March 24; he knew something 
of what was going on, and had even heard that victims complained of 
being tormented by specters of his wife and daughter, both three years 
dead. Charles Upham, writing from the point of view of 1867, felt that 
Lawson must have prepared his sermon in advance and have come to the 
village deliberately intending to blow up the flames. But Upham had not 
studied the jeremiads. Lawson did not require preparation: the formula, 
with its neatly boxed heads of argument and application, with its rhetori- 
cal tags already minted, was as ready to be wheeled into action as a loaded 
jfieldpiece. Of course his sermon did nothing to allay the panic, but what 
Lawson applied to the situation was not malicious incendiarism; it was 
traditional federal wisdom. What other wisdom was there? 

He made the standard points: afflictions come upon a people from God 
(or by His permission) because of their sins; the only relief is prayer and 
repentance, to be manifested by confession of the provoking deeds; mean- 
whfle, the duty of civil magistrates, in the interest of public welfare, is vig- 
orously to suppress disorders and to punish criminals, above all those who 
refuse to repent and confess. He used customary artifices of style to "im- 
prove" the present distress, exactly as every preacher enhanced military 
disasters or epidemics. In the light of accumulated experience, his dis- 
course was no more "irrational" than the speech of Edward Everett at 


Gettysburg. So recognizable an exercise of the type was Lawson's Christ's 
Fidelity the only Shield against Satan's Malignity that upon its publication 
in Boston, masters of the form the Mathers, Willard, James Allen, Baily, 
Charles Morton happily endorsed it. That it reinforced the resolve of the 
magistrates to ferret out evildoers cannot be questioned: since 1689 cleri- 
cal leaders, worried lest the royal charter should prevent magistrates from 
cooperating, had redoubled the effort to exhort them; Lawson followed 
precedent, and besought Hathorne not to bear a sword in vain. 

But, as we know, the list of sins and their afflictions was long and daily 
becoming longer; no single offense stood by itself, for all were intercon- 
nected. The pattern of depravity was so subtle that an exclusive concen- 
tration upon one vice easily became encouragement of another. Lawson 
knew that already the specter of his dead (and sainted) wife was being 
accused; this was a highly suspect piece of witchcraft which might the 
more readily be explained on the grounds of a disordered "phansie" as 
Increase Mather in the Essay had accounted for previous apparitions in 
New England. For decades the ministers had been denouncing without 
effect an increase of backbiting, talebearing, and rash censuring; Law- 
son recognized that a vigorous prosecution of real witches might offer the 
temptation, to a people exacerbated by a series of peculiarly acrimonious 
village quarrels, to imagine that the specters of any or all their neighbors 
were let loose. So, even thus early, he delivered the momentous caution' 
the Devil may represent good and decent citizens as afflictors of others; 
therefore, to accuse any without sufficient grounds will have a pernicious 
influence, will bring in confusion and an abundance of evil. 

This much we may say the jeremiad (as developed up to 1692) could 
do: on the one hand exhort to action and on the other caution against 
headlong zeal. But what Lawson saw with his own eyes, the day before 
he spoke, was as real as any Indian rush upon a frontier town; the situa- 
tion did not require subtle discriminations concerning the role of specters. 
Gestures of the accused produced physical and visible effects upon the 
afflicted, "so that they are their own Image." This was as welcome to the 
investigating authorities as first-hand evidence would be to a modern pros- 
ecuting attorney eager not to have to rely on circumstantial testimonies. 

Through the next weeks and months doubt spread, more slowly than 
we might wish, but at about the pace we ought to expect. The Court of 
Over and Terminer, with Stoughton presiding, and with Sewall, Richards, 
Gedney, Wait Winthrop, Sargent, Corwin on the bench, was trusting far 
too much to "spectral evidence." It was not insisting upon the solid com- 
mon-law principle that an act must be seen by two witnesses. The doctrine 
of the specter was as old as the science of witchcraft itself: as Cotton Mather 
summarized it, once a witch signs the book and covenants with hell (the 
special heinousness of this crime was the fact that it, like regeneration, took 
the form of a covenant), Satan delegates to him a devil who, taking on the 
likeness of the witch, executes his behests, such chores as pinching his ene- 


mies, blinding them, burning their houses or wrecking their ships. True, 
the specter, like the sorcerer's apprentice, might gain mastery over the mas- 
ter and compel him to molest those with whom he had no quarrel; but 
still, the specter belongs to the culprit and, if seen, is a fair presumption 
against him, just as a dog may lead the police to its owner. 

Nonetheless, experience had shown that spectral evidence must be han- 
dled with care. New England intellectuals probably had not heard, "The 
spirit that I have seen may be the Devil"; but in more authoritative works 
they had learned that he might assume a pleasing shape and abuse the 
credulous in order to damn them. Wherefore not every specter was to be 
taken for the person he resembled. But the court at Salem mainly be- 
cause of Stoughton's conviction committed itself to the proposition that 
no innocent person could, under the providence of God, be represented by 
a specter, and that therefore those who were manifested were guilty. That 
the accused should deny their confederacy was only to be expected: having 
become the Devil's children, they could confess only with his permission. 
Upon these (as Cotton Mather called them) "philosophical schemes of 
witchcraft," they proceeded, as juries have been known to act upon a set- 
tled pre-conviction that no white woman can possibly offer sexual provoca- 
tion to a Negro. 

There is no evidence that any minister ever taught this doctrine, or that 
more than three accepted it; both Mathers, the principal theorists in the 
country, had explicitly warned against it. As early as May 31, Cotton was 
begging John Richards not to lay too great stress on this sort of testimony, 
because here was the issue "It is very certain that the divells have 
sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also 
very virtuous." Indeed, the riddle of Cotton Mather's part in the business 
is bound up with his prophecy that if once unrestricted credit were yielded 
to diabolical representations, "The Door is opened!" Had the court heeded 
his recommendation, there would have been no executions; if, having made 
it, he had thereafter kept his mouth shut, he would be a hero today. 

By June 15, doubt was spreading rapidly, and a puzzled Phips, trying 
his level best to be a pious magistrate, asked advice from the local associa- 
tion of ministers. In the Magnalia Cotton says, with that unction which in- 
fects even his most worthy actions, that the answer "was drawn up at 
their desire by Mr. Mather the younger, as I have been informed." The 
Return of Several Ministers, by whomever written, is a significant docu- 
ment in the history of New England because, first, it acknowledges that 
the ministers were in a quandary of their own making, and, second, it 
shows that even in a regime where they had contrived to seat their own 
governor and a Council of their own choosing, and where the court at 
Salem was made up of professing brethren, they really no longer had any 
power. The court was proceeding on a principle of its own; the clergy 
might counsel otherwise, but were prisoners of their own reiterations; they 
were obliged by their previous utterances to conclude with the familiar 


exhortation that civil authority should press forward to a vigorous prose- 
cution of the obnoxious which Stoughton was heartily doing without 
their encouragement. At that moment, nobody quite heard the crash, but 
a central pillar of the jeremiad, shored up after 1689, tumbled to earth. 
This was the last time that a ruler of Massachusetts, in an hour of hesi- 
tation, formally and officially asked advice of the churches. 

In the eyes of posterity, The Return is vitiated by its concluding para- 
graph. This must be read as a formality which the ministers were obliged 
to observe. The really important paragraph is the sixth, which asserts 
positively that a demon can appear in the shape of an innocent person, and 
that therefore a mere charge of representation does not constitute adequate 
grounds for conviction. On August 17, Cotton Mather was again insist- 
ing, this time to John Foster, that spectral evidence is fallacious; during 
the summer he so far admitted his awareness of the court's incompetence as 
to propose the remedy he had proved efficacious in the case of Martha Good- 
win : he offered to take six or more of the afflicted into his house and cure 
them by prayer, without any trials or executions. Finally, on October 3 
Increase Mather and he alone brought the murders to an end by 
issuing Cases of Conscience, which so unequivocally condemned spectral 
evidence that Phips at last saw his duty clear and terminated the court 
although by that time twenty persons had been executed and a raging 
Stoughton, as his final gesture, signed a warrant (which Phips annulled) 
for eight more. 

We may imagine though there is no way of telling that had The 
Return spoken as emphatically on June 15 as Cases of Conscience did on 
October 3, the frenzy would have been arrested. Lacking such guidance, 
between these dates the madness had to work itself out: a reckless use of 
spectral evidence gave rein to the seething passions and festering animosi- 
ties of New England. Prisons became crowded, every man's life lay at the 
mercy of any accuser, brother looked sidewise at brother, and the friend 
of many years' standing became a bad security risk: said Gedney from the 
bench to John Alden, "that truly he had beeri acquainted with him these 
many years; and had always accounted him a good man; but indeed now 
he should be obliged to change his opinion." If the ministers are to be 
blamed as they must for not aggressively combating Stoughton's in- 
sensate dogmatism, still only three let themselves become open supporters: 
Samuel Parris (who appears utterly contemptible), Nicholas Noyes of 
Salem (who lived to repent), and John Hale of Beverly, who abruptly 
altered his mind when his wife was accused. Otherwise a fair number of 
them ventured at least as far as offering testimonials to the good character 
of several of the accused an act which required courage. We become 
convinced that behind these attestations lies more than readily meets the 
eye when we find a petition from Chebacco parish on behalf of John 
Proctor headed with the name of John Wise. The mania had, to almost 
everybody's perception except Stoughton's, run its course whe^n at last 


Samuel Willard of the Old South was cried upon. Out of the dungeon of 
the condemned, John Proctor sent an appeal to Increase Mather, Willard, 
Allen, Baily (endorsers of Lawson's sermon), which told them of the 
"Popish cruelties" the court was employing m order to extract confes- 
sions; the ministers were the last hope. And Thomas Brattle is convincing 
proof that, aside from the misguided three, throughout the country the 
elders were dissatisfied, and that, above all, Increase Mather and Samuel 
Willard were aghast. 

Thomas Brattle's Letter^ purportedly addressed to someone in Eng- 
land, is dated October 8, five days after Increase's Cases; that it was ever 
sent is doubtful, and the presumption is that, like Cotton's Political Fables, 
it circulated through the proper quarters in manuscript. Phips put an end 
to the court because Increase gave him the signal; Brattle's Letter was not 
a factor in that decision, but it represents a response to the deteriorating 
situation which, independent of the ministers, was in step with them 
although chronologically no earlier. Brattle was a merchant, a mathemati- 
cian, and an amateur astronomer whose contributions won him the grati- 
tude of Sir Isaac Newton. The Letter is a milestone in American litera- 
ture if only for its free-and-easy, its highly literate and satirical tone; in 
New England it is the first treatment of disaster that steps outside the 
scheme of the jeremiad. Considered merely stylistically, it may be inter- 
preted as a more open expression than any provincial had yet undertaken 
of the mentality that had slowly been taking shape in "moderate" circles. 
Certainly its style was the more accessible to Brattle because, after 1689, 
through contact with the capital New England had become aware of the 
revolutions wrought in prose discourse since the days of Cromwell. He 
did not trouble to wrestle with the problem of how a covenanted nation 
could make so manifest a gaff as that at Salem. Striking a new note in 
American polemics, he plunged directly into ridicule of the court, calling 
its doctrine not a "new philosophy" but "Salem superstition and sorcery." 
If rhetorical tricks would serve, he would goad his countrymen into the 
Enlightenment with the sneer that such nonsense was "not fitt to be 
named in a land of such light as New-England is." 

Hence it is all the more instructive to discover Brattle's reason for de- 
laying until October his blast against Stoughton's court: he was reluctant 
to besmear authority. He did not want to appear as one notoriously given 
to a "factious spirit." In 1692, this meant only Elisha Cooke's anti-charter 
party (one has to remember that the witchcraft issue did not, at least at 
this time, become entangled in the acrimonious political division, and that 
Cooke's "patriots" did not use it against the Mathers which shows that 
they were no dearer in their own minds, and that at this moment no 
such charge against the clergy would have stuck). But now, as bitter 
experience made clear that the court, through its fanatical adherence to 
an idiotic principle of jurisprudence, had shed "the innocentest blood im- 
aginable," Brattle excoriated the "Salem Gentlemen" because, having 


submitted to the Devil's stratagem, they imperiled that "liberty" which 
"was evermore accounted the great priviledge of an Englishman." At no 
point suggesting the slightest disagreement with Increase Mather rather 
making clear his full accord Brattle concluded his Letter with one of the 
great sentences of the time, which, eschewing the jargon of the covenant, 
reveals how much the theme of the jeremiads had become, if only through 
the discipline of disillusion, a secular patriotism: "I am afraid that ages 
will not wear off that reproach and those stains which these things will 
leave behind them upon our land." 

Perhaps I make too much of Brattle's omission of any covenantal con- 
sideration. Nevertheless, brief as his Letter is, not only does it fail to sum- 
mon up that conception, not only does it take the land to be simply "our 
land" instead of one plighted to God, but it assumes two radical positions: 
it declares that the (by then) glib confessions of guilt are not to be trusted; 
and it flatly asserts that the court has perpetrated a disastrous mistake. 

One fact the record does indeed make clear: in this situation that very 
course of action so resoundingly trumpeted in the jeremiads as the only 
remedy for social ills confession and repentance became a dodge. It did 
not heal the grievance, but compounded the evil. For decades the logic of 
the covenant had been clear, whether applied to individuals or to nations: 
one enters into the bond, he sins, and is afflicted, according to explicit 
terms; he confesses his sin, the affliction is removed, he is restored to the 
covenant (as a church member under censure is fully restored to the 
church after public confession). But on August 20, Margaret Jacobs, who 
had acknowledged the crime and whose accusations hanged her grand- 
father, recanted her admission, "Having, through the magistrates' threat- 
enings, and my own vile and wretched heart, confessed several things 
contrary to my conscience and knowledge." At Andover, whither the ac- 
cusations spread, the whole mechanism became a shambles as six women 
promptly confessed, only to explain that they had not known what else 
to say. By the time Brattle and Mather wrote, the jails were full of con- 
fessors; several fled, but others confessed wholesale and were safe. The 
hunt could have become such a horror as to outrun the worst imaginings 
of the time had not the very weight of the confessions broken down every 
effort to secure them; their value depreciated spectacularly (as did the 
bills of credit) as they became patently devices for eluding what Brattle 
called the "rude and barbarous methods" of the court. But in this case, 
what was left, in the midst of such merely politic humiliations, of that sin- 
cere repentance called for in the enduring covenant of Abraham? 

According to federal theory, an afflicted but unrepenting people invite 
further affliction. In the opinion of many unprejudiced spectators, said 
Brattle, the condemned "went out of the world not only with as great 
protestations, but also with as good shows of innocency, as men could do." 
By strictly and conscientiously applying the doctrine of the jeremiad, the 
court created a situation in which meretricious confession went free and 


sincere denial automatically became guilt. There is no more poignant testi- 
mony to the hold of the conception upon the minds of ordinary New Eng- 
landers than the fact that those who died because of it remained to the 
end faithful to it. Records of the court were not published, and so few 
actually heard the words of Mary Easty, but such "considerate" observers 
as Brattle were bound to sense the logical impasse to which she had come : 

I petition to Your Honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my 
appointed time is set, but the Lord he knows it is that, if it be possible, no more 
innocent blood may be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way 
and course you go in. I question not but Your Honors do to the utmost of your 
powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft and witches, and would not be 
guilty of innocent blood for the world. But, by my own innocency, I know you 
are in the wrong way. 

Her dilemma was precisely her inability to do what, had she been guilty, 
she would gladly have done ; and she could not, like so many others, pros- 
titute the federal theology by cynically confessing. "They say myself and 
others have made a league with the Devil, we cannot confess." Hordes 
of reformed witches, instead of testifying to the mercy of the covenant, 
were becoming an embarrassment, while Mary Easty simply said, "I can- 
not, I dare not, belie my own soul." Good citizens, caught in the mesh of 
accusation, had no way to escape except by a deed more evil than any bar- 
gain with the Black Man, while repentant witches could smear whomever 
they pleased with impunity. In a remarkably short time (all things con- 
sidered) it was borne upon even John Hale that had all twenty of the 
executed ("some of them were knowing persons") been guilty, a few of 
them would surely have saved their lives by doing the expected. Whereas 
for the mass who did confess "we had no experience whether they would 
stand to their Self-condemning confessions, when they came to dye." For 
Mary Easty, having worked herself through the labyrinth with no other 
guide than her native wit, said to the court, "I would humbly beg of you, 
that Your Honors would be pleased ... to try some of these confessing 
witches" which the court never dared do. Indeed, had it come to that 
extremity, there was reason to suspect that many of them, instead of stand- 
ing to their profession of evil, would have recanted to virtue ! 

Cases of Conscience is as important a document in the history of the 
American mind as Brattle's Letter, not so much because it was effective 
as because it sprang from the same recognitions. Fourteen ministers signed 
the preface, making it even more a manifesto of solidarity than Lawson's 
sermon; they showed their comprehension of the issue by declaring that 
unless there was convincing proof for any crime, whether witchcraft or 
murder, God does not then intend that the culprit be discovered. Where- 
upon Increase denounced spectral evidence, and skillfully turned the pos- 
sibility that a good man should be so represented into a trial of faith. Those 
who supposed that the malice of Satan is so constrained that he is incapable 


of this feat were now accused of being the Sadducees 1 Confession itself, 
at least m these realms, was no longer a safe rule ; the only reliable ground 
was such as would obtain "in any other Crime of a Capital nature'* the 
credible testimony under oath of two actual witnesses. 

But and it is a large but Increase added a postscript: he did not in- 
tend any reflection on members of the court 1 "They are wise and good 
Men, and have acted with all Fidelity according to their Light, and have 
out of tenderness declined the doing of some things, which in our Judg- 
ments they were satisfied about." He himself had attended the trial of 
Burroughs, and could declare it fair. The judges must be believed when 
they say that none was convicted "meerly on the account of what Spectres 
have said." Without the postscript, Cases of Conscience would be a bold 
stroke; with it, the book is a miserable species of double-talk. 

We grasp its import only to the extent that we appreciate the habit of 
speech that grew up in New England as an inevitable concomitant of the 
jeremiads: references had to be phrased in more and more generalized 
terms, names never explicitly named, so that we are obliged to decipher 
out of oblique insinuations what to contemporaries were broad designations. 
When ministers denounced "oppression" and "luxury," they meant cer- 
tain people whom they did not have to specify. The controversy between 
moderates and the charter party must be deduced from what seem like 
platitudes in election sermons, where minor shirts of emphasis betrayed 
party maneuvers. This habit of ambiguity, developed out of New Eng- 
land's insecurity, out of its inability to face frankly its own internal divi- 
sions, out of its effort to maintain a semblance of unity even while 
unanimity was crumbling which became more elaborate and disingenu- 
ous as internecine passions waxed was to cling to the New Engknd mind 
for centuries. We look ahead to the decades in which an emerging Uni- 
tarianism swathed itself in terms of studied vagueness; even after the split, 
the habit clung especially to the Unitarian pulpit, many of whose brightest 
lights were proud that their sermons never indicated any awareness of con- 
troversy. In Boston society today, matters may be fully discussed which, 
to an outsider, seem never to be mentioned at all. Such tribal reticence only 
an occasional Thoreau was to defy or an Emily Dickinson to turn into 
secret triumph. 

Hence, for contemporaneous ears, Cases of Conscience was actually a 
blast against the court. Early the next year, Increase was circulating a let- 
ter from an English correspondent expressing surprise that so learned a 
man as Stoughton "should take up a persuasion, that the devil cannot as- 
sume the likeness of an innocent, to afflict another person." Increase Mather 
would stand in American history with a Zenger or a Love joy had he said 
what was in his mind, had he publicly repudiated the court. But neither he 
nor any of the clergy could do so the friendship of the judges and all 
they stood for was too valuable. A modern political party will write into 
its platform a plank which in effect disowns the conduct of Congressional 


leaders and then support the reelection of exactly those discredited mem- 
bers. The virtuous act would be to split the party, but Increase shrank 
from that nobility. He wrote a treatise which by every implication and 
in historical fact proscribed the court, but which still preserved a show 
of unity among leading citizens by praising what it censured. He may hon- 
estly have persuaded himself (as at the trial of Burroughs) that the court 
was not sentencing "meerly" on spectral evidence, but he could not have 
written the Cases had he not known otherwise. It is a carefully designed 
book courageous but also dishonest. Once his arguments were accepted, 
the court became (as Increase knew it would) infamous; group loyalty 
or, if you will, class loyalty kept him from saying so outright, and still 
more distressingly, kept him trying to avoid saying so for the rest of his life. 
Still, there is honesty in his book, enough to make it a matter of record that 
the supervisors of the covenant the ruling class of Massachusetts had 
been stampeded into a barbarism as gross, fundamentally, as anything they 
charged against Louis XIV. And as he defined it, the error consisted not in 
any charge which later generations would levy, but solely in violation of the 
standards professed by the Puritan jeremiad. 

Increase had long since become a tactician: he had learned much in 
London that he had not known when preaching on the woes of Philip's 
War. He was capable of writing his postscript to the Cases even while 
acknowledging to his journal that innocent blood had been shed. His son 
Cotton never left the vicinity of Boston, never served apprentice in a 
wider, a less scrupulous world. Upon him fell the weight of contradiction, 
and we must say to the credit of provincial morality that he was the one 
to suffer. Pressed into service by those already apprehensive that things 
had gone wrong, he was commissioned to absolve them; to his undying 
infamy, he accepted the assignment. He knew of only one device through 
which the deed might be justified the theology of the national covenant. 
If the Salem Gentlemen (which meant all gentlemen) were to preserve 
their self-respect or their solidarity they must have not so much a de- 
fense as a demonstration; whatever had happened had still, by some stretch 
of ingenuity, to be translated into a proof that New England was the 
chosen people. He undertook the task when he knew better, and com- 
posed that apologia for insincerity which, entitled The Wonders of the 
Invisible World, has ever since scarred his reputation, even among those 
who have no notion wherein its actual dishonesty consists. 

He had put himself into the position from which he could not retreat 
by becoming the peerless penman of the colony. In the middle of Sep- 
tember, poor Phips was under fire from the home government; he needed 
help. He asked Cotton says "commanded" that Mather prepare a 
plausible record of some, if not all, of the trials. On September 20, Cot- 
ton, who seems not to have known exactly what his father was pondering, 
wrote an abject letter to Stephen Sewall, brother of Samuel, clerk of the 
court in Salem, beseeching a transcript of the record; even then he betrayed 


the paralyzing doubt that hung over the composition of his most deplor- 
able utterance. "You should imagine me as obstinate a Sadduce and Witch- 
advocate as any among us," he begged of Sewall: "Address mee as one 
that Believ'd Nothing Reasonable." Propagandists put to an impossible 
task commence with the prayer that they may first of all manage to propa- 
gandize themselves. 

On September 22, the final day of the court, after the last executions, 
Samuel and Stephen Sewall, with Stoughton and Hathorne (who had 
conducted the high-handed preliminary interrogations), rode down to 
Boston, they met with Cotton Mather and sealed his fate. Stephen prom- 
ised to go back to Salem and get the records; Stoughton and Sewall prom- 
ised to stand by him ; Cotton went to his study and, in fear and trembling, 
began to wiite. Leaving a blank page for the endorsement Stoughton was 
to supply him, this tortured soul blurted out his first sentence "I live by 
Neighbours that force me to produce these undeserved Lines." If ever 
there was a false book produced by a man whose heart was not in it, it is 
The Wonders. 

Once started, this man whose pen raced across blank paper at break- 
neck speed could not stop. His mind was bubbling with every sentence 
of the jeremiads, for he was heart and soul in the effort to reorganize 
them. And for days Stephen Sewall did not send the records. Cotton 
might have waited; a man secure of himself would have waited; he was 
insecure, frightened, sick at heart (at the end of his manuscript he was 
again to betray himself: he had done "the Service imposed upon me"). 
He wrote an introduction, hoping that it would anticipate the records; 
like a criminal who protests his innocence, the more he scribbled, the more 
he disclosed. Still no word from Salem: he put in an extract from Perkins; 
he redacted a sermon (in the vein of Lawson's) he had delivered on Au- 
gust 4; he devised a further jeremiad-like address to the country and still 
nothing from Salem. He ransacked his library for stories of apparitions, 
hoping that they might substantiate what he was about to receive. The 
book was already swelling much too big he had to admit and he had 
just transcribed the report of a trial before Sir Matthew Hale, when, to 
his immense relief, Stephen's packet arrived. He worked out a version of 
five of the twenty trials, wrote a few wearied and confused observations, 
and rushed the monstrous collection to a printer. The book was on the 
streets about October 15. (Meanwhile, Increase had read Cases of Con- 
science to the associated ministers on October 3; though it was not pub- 
lished for another month, Phips and the General Court had acted upon 
it; and Stoughton, who raged against Phips and was never to retract his 
conviction that a specter is proof of witchcraft, had written his foreword 
of full approbation for Cotton Mather's zeal and vigor which he would 
never have done had the book managed to convey, except by its utter 
confusion, what Cotton Mather had really believed about spectral evi- 


Cotton evidently finished his redaction of Stephen Sewall's notes on 
October 11, for on that day Stoughton and Samuel Sewall attested that 
it was a true report of matters of fact and evidence. Why did the poor 
devil not leave well enough alone, publish the reports, and throw into the 
fire everything he had poured out during the days of waiting? He suffered 
from a monstrous lust for publication, that much is certain ; but the fuller 
explanation, accounting for the discharge of both his conscious and uncon- 
scious motivations, is the compelling force of the jeremiad. He had to find 
a rationale for his country's ordeal and at the same time a modicum of 
peace with himself; he did both by forcing this wretched business into 
the traditional scheme of sin and retnbution, which to him was the only 
form that would" give conceivable significance either to New England's 
tragedy or to his own comprehension of it. He could not let a word he had 
written out of his trance go to waste; hence he, a stylist who kept even 
the sprawling Magnaha under some coherent control, published the most 
incoherent jumble he ever allowed to appear between* covers. 

In the helter-skelter of prefatory 'material he made once again every 
point which in the previous two chapters have emerged as themes in the 
reconstituted jeremiads. The first part a good two-thirds of the book 
is an epitome of all pronouncements since 1689. We New Englanders, 
he says, are the most loyal of subjects: hence Their Majesties' people 
should not be tormented by witches* We fully accept the principle of tolera- 
tion, and make no distinction among Christians, whether Congregational- 
ists, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians. Somehow at stake in all this are our 
"English Liberties" and our charter, which is attended "with singular 
Privfledges," such as choosing our own Council. Cotton could not cope 
with witches unless he first explained once more that New England was 
not so bad as the jeremiads had sometimes said: the body of the people 
were honest and industrious, multitudes here grew ripe for heaven, and 
were such as could make a right use of stupendous and prodigious occa- 
sions. Therefore New England should not have "an Unsavoury and a 
Sulpherous Resentment in the Opinion of the World abroad." At the same 
time, this community founded by a chosen generation of saints and at first 
"a true Utopia" was abysmally degenerated; it had become a nest of 
swearing, Sabbath-breaking, whoring, drunkenness. Consequently it had 
suffered in increasing severity a series of judgments Antinomians, crop 
failures, sickness, revocation of the charter, Indian wars, fires, losses at 
sea, and now this climax, a descent of devils in fropibus fersonibus. There 
is something both appealing and repulsive in Cotton's frantic clutching at 
the old array of sins in order to explain this affliction, at those village vices 
so long since arraigned: back-biting, scandal-mongering, talebearing, suits- 
at-law precisely that cave of winds into which anthropologists of today 
would search for "causes" of the saturnalia that overwhelmed Salem 

Cotton Mather made all he could of the manifest stepping up of the 


scale of suffering, which would in itself certify New England's special 
position in the universe: "A Variety of Calamity has long follow'd this 
Plantation," even unto "a more than ordinary affliction." Against all these 
there was in 1692, as from the beginning, only one preservation: "REFOR- 
MATION' REFORMATION! has been the repeated Cry of all the Judgments 
that have hitherto been upon us." But, according to formula, because we 
have hitherto been as deaf as adders, "the Adders of the Infernal Pit are 
now hissing about us." Here at last was the long-sought, the long-desired 
consummation of the catalogue. 

Except that there was or there might be a climax beyond even this: 
that dreadful culmination which for the Mathers (if not for all their col- 
leagues) would be the truly final resolution. We cannot begin to com- 
prehend this curious volume without perceiving that on page after page, 
whenever the tension becomes unbearable, the discourse plunges into Chili- 
astic ecstasy. The witches are signs of the times, of the death-pangs of the 
Devil; mischievous powers prevail for the moment, but only because his 
rule is nearing extinction. "The Devils Whole-time, cannot but be very 
near its End." 

In the pressure of these packed moments, on the tenterhooks of anxiety, 
Cotton Mather made a syllabus for the new jeremiad. In his feverish con- 
centration, everything pointed to one conclusion the one he had striven 
for three years to make that because Satan was gathering his forces for 
the ultimate assault, the civil magistrates were especially required to sup- 
press any and all disorders, to punish every offender. (However, oddly 
enough, even in his delirium he kept his recently acquired sense of pro- 
portion, and though he termed New England the "center," hastily added, 
"and after a sort, the First-born of our English Settlements.") Whatever 
cautions he had studied during the summer, in throwing together these 
words he went with the tide of his rhetoric and found himself exhorting 
the magistrates "to do something extraordinary in promoting what is 
laudable, and in restraining and chastising of Evil Doers." 

All of this was in the pattern; and Salem judges, having done their 
duty, endorsed The Wonders. There was only one hitch, and Cotton 
revealed it: the convictions had been secured "notwithstanding the Great 
and Just Suspicion, that the Daemons might Impose the Shapes of Inno- 
cent Persons in their Spectral Exhibitions upon the Sufferers (which may 
perhaps prove no small part of the Witch-Plot in the issue)." Every day 
he waited for Stephen's transcripts, Cotton heard that this had become "a 
most agitated Controversie among us," until he was shrieking that the 
Devil has pushed us "into a Blind Mans Buffet, and we are even ready 
to be sinfully, yea, hotly, and madly, mauling one another in the dark." 
This sentence is, obviously, a prime example of that peculiar kind of revela- 
tion without explicit admission that had become an acquired characteristic 
of the New England mind. 

What he could not conceal from himself was that the formula of cove- 


nant reformation had miscarried. As all good jeremiads had said, the 
preliminary to release from affliction is confession; now there were con- 
fessions aplenty, the jails were full and "there is extream Hazard, lest the 
Devil by Compulsion must submit to that Great Work, may also by Per- 
mission, come to Confound that Work," lest he "intertwist some of his 
Delusions." Knowing that every moment he delayed, "a common Stream 
of Dissatisfaction" was mounting to which Phips would have to yield, 
putting the best face possible upon that prospect by prophesying that a 
wise magistrate may leave undone things he can no longer do "when the 
Publick Safety makes an Exigency," Cotton salvaged what defense he 
could for a court in which he did not believe by the pitiful remonstrance: 
"Surely, they have at worst been but the faults of a well-meaning Igno- 
rance." We avert our gaze while he, having made what he could of 
Stephen's notes, fled up the ladder of the jeremiad and soothed himself 
with fresh dreams of the New Jerusalem, "from whence the Devil shall 
then be banished, there shall be no Devil within the Walls of that Holy 

Mather did all this harm to himself after the trials were over, at the 
very moment sanity was returning. There is no need to apologize for him, 
for what he did deserves no apology; but we need accuse him only of 
what he actually did do. He is not responsible for killing Rebecca Nurse 
or George Burroughs. But he tried to make those killings legitimate when 
he knew they were murders by dressing them in the paraphernalia of the 
federal doctrine ("When this is done, Then let us own the Covenant"). 
He tried it even though he knew that the covenant remedy of confession 
had become a farce. By gathering the folds of that prophetic mantle 
around the gaping hypotheses of Stoughton's court, he fatally soiled it. 
The consequences were not to be fully realized for several years, but the 
damage was done. Samuel Eliot Morison says that Robert Calef tied a 
tin can to Cotton Mather which has rattled and banged through the pages 
of superficial and popular historians. My account is not popular, and I 
strive to make it not superficial; assuredly, if by tin can is meant the 
charge that Mather worked up the Salem tragedy, it does not belong to 
him; but what Calef was actually to charge was that he prostituted a 
magnificent conception of New England's destiny to saving the face of a 
bigoted court. In that sense, the right can was tied to the proper tail, and 
through the pages of this volume it shall rattle and bang. 

Sometime during this fatal week, while Increase Mather was seeking 
a way to stop the court without discrediting it, while Cotton was being 
forced into defending the indefensible and Thomas Brattle was sicken- 
ing of the Salem Gentlemen, a wit in Boston wrote a. sixteen-page dialogue 
between S (obviously Salem) and B (by the same token, Boston), entitled 
Some Miscellany Observations on our Present Debates respecting Witch- 
crafts, and got it printed as though by William Bradford in Philadelphia. 
It purports to be issued for Hezekiah Usher, and to be written by "P. E." 


(everybody knew this meant Philip English) and "J. A." (John Alden) 
three of the accused who had fled instead of confessing. Scholars say that 
the type bears no relation to anything in Bradford's cases. A remarkable 
achievement of the native intelligence, this neglected essay is perhaps a 
greater indication of the tendency of the society than either of the Mathers'. 

Who wrote it? Immemorial tradition says Samuel Willard; in 1695 
Calef addressed him as "the suppos'd Author." He has a good record: at 
Groton in 1671 Elizabeth Knapp put on an exhibition which anticipated 
the antics of the possessed girls in Salem Village, and Willard (then the 
pastor) stifled the furor and wrote a clinical report which, had it been 
studied, might have cured the Salem wenches. He helped Usher, English, 
and Alden to escape, and he signed Increase's Cases. True, he also signed 
Lawson's tirade, but, as we have seen, early in the business that had 
seemed just another jeremiad. At his funeral, in 1707, his successor said 
that he should be honored for discovering the cheats and delusions of 
Satan which undoubtedly meant something more specific to a congrega- 
tion in the Old South than it does to us. It is difficult to recognize evi- 
dences of Willard's Style in the Observations unless, under the pres- 
sures of this terrible moment, and writing secretly, he divested himself of 
his polemical mode and addressed himself to a more conversational manner. 

For the Observations is a masterful analysis of how, in this model for 
all witch-hunts, confession became acquittal and an opportunity to besmirch 
others, while denial if so facto became guilt. B does not doubt the existence 
of witches; neither does he deny that magistrates should hang them but 
cautions should be observed: there must be clear proof. Whereupon 5, 
good federal theologian that he is, asks the crucial question: can you main- 
tain the "Rectoral Holiness" of God in governing the world if the spec- 
ter of an innocent person be allowed to make mischief? B replies that God 
in His infinite wisdom may permit even this. Step by step, B drives S to 
conceding that the evidence of a renegade witch is not to be taken seriously, 
because even if he be sincere, he cannot be trusted. But when rational 
argument has all but stripped 5 of his defenses, he turns upon B with a 
snarl which comes down the years like a bullet: "You are an admirable 
Advocate for the Witches." After this, it becomes indeed difficult for B 
to protest that he is sound on the subject. 

For modern ears, an equally dramatic moment comes when S protests 
that if a trial is to be hampered by too many safeguards, no witches will 
ever be caught; hence, he says, it is better to convict upon presumption. 
To which B replies, 

This is a dangerous Principle, and contrary to the mind of God, who hath ap- 
pointed that there shall be good and clear proof against the Criminal; else he is 
not Providentially delivered into the hands of Justice, to be taken off from the 
earth. Nor hath God exempted this Case of Witchcraft from the General Rule. 
Besides, reason tells us, that the more horrid the Crime is, the more Cautious we 
ought to be in making any guilty of it. 


One's admiration goes further out to B (who, let us remember, signifies 
Boston) as he explains, in the face of spectral accusations, "This is no light 
matter to have mens names for ever Stigmatized, their Families ruined, 
and their Lives hazarded," and so concludes that if such creatures as spec- 
ters are to be believed, then the Devil himself has turned informer, and 
all good men shall forever be hoodwinked. 

To comprehend the predicament of the Puritan intellect m 1692, we 
should note that earlier in the crisis Cotton Mather preached one of his 
most stirring jeremiads, A Midnight Cry y in which he trounced New Eng- 
land with the gory threat of Indian atrocities: they "have taken our Breth- 
ren, and binding them to a Stake, with a Lingring Heat, Burned and 
Roasted them to Death; the Exquisite Groans and Shrieks of those our 
Dying Bretheren should Awaken us." In the intoxication of such external 
dangers, he publicly committed himself to the thesis that internal traitors 
had been convicted "by so fair and full a process of Law, as would render 
the Denyers thereof worthy of no Reasonabler Company than that in 
Bedlem." But his Dtary shows him wrestling with the doubt that corrodes 
the pages of the Wonders; by June 7, 1694, he had openly to declare that 
the affliction consisted not so much in a descent of evil angels as in "unheard 
of DELUSIONS." At the election of May 27, 1696, he was simply non- 
plussed: "It was, and it will be, past all Humane Skill, Exactly to Under- 
stand what Inextricable Things we have met withal." In 1697 he had the 
honesty in his life of Phips (and later the integrity to incorporate the pas- 
sage into the Magndia) to acknowledge that the court had operated upon 
an erroneous notion; he still, though lamely, insisted that there had been 
other proofs, but in a last agony could not prevent himself from recording: 
"Nevertheless, divers were condemned, against whom the chief evidence 
was founded in the spectral exhibitions." 

In the privacy of his Diary, Cotton Mather could simultaneously tell 
himself, even in 1692, that he always testified against spectral evidence 
and that the judges were "a most charming Instance of Prudence and 
Patience." Because he spoke "honourably" of their persons (at least ac- 
cording to his own account), "the mad people thro' the Countrey . . . 
reviled mee, as if I had been the Doer of all the hard Things, that were 
done, in the Prosecution of the Witchcraft." Considering that there is 
ample evidence in the Diary (all the more remarkable because it is stu- 
diously composed) that he never succeeded in persuading himself he had 
done the right thing (in 1697, after Sewall had repented, he grew pan- 
icky lest the Lord take revenge upon his family "for my not appearing 
with Vigor enough to stop the proceedings of the Judges"), it is the more 
striking that there are no respects in which one can say that the clergy 
suffered any immediate diminution of prestige or influence because of 
witchcraft. Nor did the judges lose standing in the community: neither 
Stoughton, who never admitted error, nor Samuel Sewall, who, in one of 
the noblest gestures of the period, took the shame of it upon himself before 


his church. The real effect of the tragedy is not to be traced in the field of 
politics or society, but in the intangible area of federal theory, and in the 
still more intangible region of self-esteem. 

Henceforth there was, although for a time desperately concealed, a flaw 
in the very foundation of the covenant conception. The doctrine that afflic- 
tions are punishments to be dispelled by confession had produced at least one 
ghastly blunder; repentance had been twisted into a ruse, and the civil mag- 
istrate, by a vigorous exercise of his appointed function, had become guilty 
of hideous enormities. Nineteen years later, Cotton Mather was still keeping 
vigils to inquire of the Lord "the meaning of the Descent from the Invisible 
World," and was obliged repeatedly to discharge his sense of guilt by adver- 
tising, as a fundamental tenet of New England along with liberty of con- 
science, "That Persons are not to be judg'd Confederates with Evil Spirits, 
meerly because the Evil Spirits do make possessed People cry out upon 
them." The meaning of New England had been fixed, by Winthrop and 
the founders, in the language of a covenant; if henceforth there was so 
much as a shadow of suspicion upon that philosophy, in what realm of sig- 
nificance could the land hold its identity? 

John Hale, we have seen, was one of three ministers who committed 
themselves; in his revulsion, he went so far to the other extreme that Sewall 
feared he would deny witchcraft itself. He wrote A Modest Enquiry Into 
the Nature of Witchcraft in 1698; it is a sad, troubled, and honest book, 
which he could not bring himself to publish, so that it appeared two years 
after his death, in 1702. It passed unnoted, and is of importance mainly for 
the light it sheds upon the working of many minds obliged to live with per- 
plexity. For the fact could not be got round: Hale had been trained to a 
belief in certain articles, and precisely these fundamentals "I here question 
as unsafe to be used." Nobody in New England had yet uttered such a 
sentence. Once the process of "a more strict scanning of the principles I 
had imbibed" was started, once it led to a rejection of any of the principles 
of aged, learned, and judicious persons, where would it stop? We followed 
(with a "kind of Implicit Faith") the "traditions of our fathers," and now 
see that they, "weighed in the balance of the Sanctuary, are found too 
light." The whole edifice of the New England mind rocked at the very 
thought that it might be based, not upon a cosmic design of the covenant, 
but merely upon fallible founders; yet Hale forced himself to recognize the 
power o"f conditioning: "A Child will not easily forsake the principles he 
hath been trained up in from his Cradle." 

Frightened by his own audacity, Hale turned back at the end of his 
soliloquy: because our fathers did not see deeply into these mysteries, let us 
not undervalue the good foundations they did lay. They brought the land 
into an engagement with God, and He may even yet not entirely "cut off 
the Entail of his Covenant Mercies." In 1720, Samuel Sewall had his 
memories come thick upon him as he read the account in Neal's History, 
and cried out, "The good and gracious God be pleased to save New Eng- 


land and me, and my family ! " The onus of error lay heavy upon the land ; 
realization of it slowly but. irresistibly ate into the New England conscience. 
For a long time dismay did not translate itself into a disbelief in witchcraft 
or into anticlericalism, but it rapidly became an unassuageable grief that the 
covenanted community should have committed an irrepaiable evil. Out of 
sorrow and chagrin, out of dread, was born a new love for the land which 
had been desecrated, but somehow also consecrated, by the blood of in- 




1692 Salem witchcraft was a peripheral episode, 
during which the New England mind was engrossed with its real problem: 
how, under the terms of the new charter, could it survive the disintegrating 
and seemingly irresistible consequences of the Half- Way Covenant? 

Even while the hierophants were hailing William and Mary's charter as 
a victory, they betrayed the fullness and bitterness of their realization 
that because of it their future depended more than ever upon their produc- 
ing a succession of pious children. At the acme of his success, as he came 
home with his puppet governor m tow and his nominations to the Council 
secured, even as he pretended that civil authority had once more become 
the handmaiden of primitive polity, Increase Mather knew that this admin- 
istration was not to be relied upon. New England's system rested upon 
covenant: a Congregational society expected more from officials than that 
they enact moral legislation, suppress vice, collect tithes, and even frankly 
(with concessions to liberty of conscience) favor the standing order. An 
Anglican or Presbyterian system might get along with this kind of support, 
but Congregationalism required something more positive. It presupposed 
that power arose out of society's federated will, that it should be not merely 
well intentioned but actively conscious of what Wmthrop called "our Com- 
mission and Community in the worke." The new charter, with all its ad- 
vantages and privileges, was by its very nature primarily concerned with 
either constitutional rights or with the Navigation Laws; by no exegesis 
could it be transformed, as the founders had transformed the first charter, 
into a scaffold for a city of righteousness. Even with the best of intentions, 
a royally appointed Phips (bewildered in a dignity that was none of his 
choosing) was anything but a Winthrop; after him, the governorship was 
foreseeably bound to degenerate from the pinnacle of ultimate adjudication 
into a merely administrative office, and so to lie at the mercy of conflicting 

If these churches were to continue, they had not only to remain dominant 
but to fill up their ranks with saints. They had to create in each community 
a core of members who voluntarily took the covenant, who would attend 
the Lord's Supper as a symbol of free choice, who would be there not be- 
cause they lived in the parish or were obliged by custom and law, but be- 
cause they made and recorded a decision. Anything in the way of ecclesiasti- 


cal legislation that could be got past a royal disallowance was indeed to be 
enacted, but even so, the principle of voluntarism had to be preserved. The 
magnificent scheme of the founders called for willing subjection to the in- 
herently good, just, and honest; now, with no more to be expected from the 
state than, at best, a half-hearted tagging along, the ministers had to evoke 
this willingness. The very day they nd themselves of Andros, they per- 
ceived that they still possessed, in addition to the jeremiad, one further de- 
vice for mass persuasion: they could still press home the obligation of the 
baptismal covenant. 

Hence, during the terrible summer of 1692, Cotton Mather was unable 
to concentrate his whole mind upon the distressing business in Essex County. 
He was too much preoccupied with the larger strategy: church fellowship 
must be enlarged, the ministry better paid, ecclesiastical discipline stiffened, 
the Lord's Supper extended, and most essentially baptism be "im- 
proved." This last was the hinge of the whole campaign: unless it were 
dispensed to more persons, and all these galvanized into following its in- 
junction (of their own volition' ) into becoming professors, the New Eng- 
land Way would perish. 

Mather showed his preternatural sense of what the liberation of 1689 
really meant by issuing, within the year, A Companion for Communicants, 
of which the point was that the baptized (however they came to be bap- 
tized) have engaged themselves to qualify for the second sacrament. There 
was no longer a political inducement; therefore Mather resorted to the 
one incentive he could yet employ: he threatened "baptistes" with a super- 
natural vengeance infinitely worse than any in store for ordinary sinners. 
"The Waters of Baptism, will prove more bitter and baneful than the 
waters of jealousie to the guilty Souls of them that forget what engagements 
are by their Baptism laid upon them." Willard joined him in 1691 by pub- 
lishing The Barren Fig Trees Doom, wherein, says the title page, "is set 
forth the woful danger o all who abide unfruitful under the Gospel- 
privfledges, and God's husbandry." Membership in the merely visible cove- 
nant does indeed have value, but here Willard tried to arrest New Eng- 
land's history, to call a halt to the march of hypocrisy and preparation 
men do not become intrinsically better because of it: "Church-Membership 
is not only a title of dignity, but also an obligation to Service." Those who 
luxuriate in the one without assuming the other provoke the Lord most 

In short, this American system could not work upon anybody unless he 
were first got into covenant so that he could then be presumed capable 
of action. Inert citizens can no more make a church than a water-logged 
vessel can obey the helm. In New England, by the doctrine of national 
covenant, by the fact that all had come (either of themselves or through 
their fathers) because of an act of choice, a certain rudimentary ability 
could be attributed even to the meanest inhabitant. AH were immigrants, 
and to them could be assigned (what could not be presupposed for Euro- 


peans) enough power to reform their external manners: "Children born in 
New-England, if they dy in their Sins, will fall under an heavier Condem- 
nation at the Last Day, than if they had been born m Sodom." But for 
New England itself, still more was demanded: there had to be a willingness 
within the will, a covenant beyond the covenant; therefore a larger freedom 
had to be placed at the disposal of the baptized (the favored children of a 
favored land), who then could be addressed as though entirely capable of 
performing or not performing, and consequently be berated for their fal- 
uies. The last enemies of the Half- Way Covenant were dying off; few 
were left to accuse Cotton Mather of sophistry when he argued that the 
two factions should now come together. Opponents might as well admit 
that some may "do that as a point of pure Morality" which others had 
wished "to do as a point of Institution." "The Statute-Law of Discipline" 
might still be silent, but the churches had safely proceeded upon "the Com- 
mon-Law of Reproving." In either view there was adequate warrant for 
"thus dealing with such as have been Baptised in their Bosoms." Why keep 
up a lingering scruple against applying the force of ecclesiastical discipline 
to half-way members when that was what the country needed? 

If so, those addressed on a point of morality should not only be re- 
minded. Sabbath after Sabbath, of their obligations, but be periodically 
quickened. Here Cotton Mather perceived the great possibilities of renewal 
of covenant: A Midnight Cry told how he listed the sixteen common evils 
of the land and then had his church testify against them while "renewing 
our Covenant." Speaking to the country, out of the fears and doubts that 
haunt the Wonders, he could think of no better way for the churches to 
assist in the cure of witchcraft than "to do something extraordinary, in re- 
newing of their Covenants, and in remembrmg and reviving the Obliga- 
tions of what they have renewed." 

The decade of the 1690's witnesses the full flowering of this ritual. At 
Hartford m 1696 the universality of the pledge constitutes what in later 
parlance might be called a "revival." Yet while there was no longer sub- 
stantial opposition to the Half- Way Covenant, there was stubborn objec- 
tion (a small cloud on the horizon) to this extrapolation. Cotton Mather 
defended it, arguing that communal reaffirmation was no violation of pre- 
destinarian theology because such a mass surrender was, on the part of the 
people, a renunciation of their own strength : possibly it might be something 
beyond "what is to be found in the Old Way of Returning to God," but it 
sdll could be justified as an "Expedient circumstance of Explicitness, dic- 
tated by the very Light of Nature, for the better doing of it." If there was 
an incipient antagonism between his two sanctions of God and nature, 
Mather tried not to notice it. The published literature amounts to an ex- 
panding plea for more and more experiment with this natural means, ex- 
hibiting an astonishing sophistication about stagecraft. By 1696 Mather de- 
scribed it in detail, calling it "a very special and Important Expedient of 
Reformation," showing that it had become not an occasional resort in 


desperate times (as in Philip's War), but a standard feature of the social 
pattern : 

Let them that have Enjoy'd the Seals of this Covenant, again and again, with 
all possible Solemnity, Repeat the Consent of their Souls thereunto. Syrs, A most 
wondrous Reformation would follow hereupon Immediately. 

Here indeed was an expedient ready at hand! 

However, expediency calls for whatever will expedite. In this decade ser- 
mons unmistakably tend toward increasing emphasis upon the threat of hell- 
fire, the flames blown with a special bellows to receive the baptized who 
die unconverted: if plants in Christ's vineyard will not serve for fruit, 
preached the gentle and moderate Willard, "they will do for burning." 
The torments of these children will more glorify God than shrieks of the 
reprobate "by so much as these have had more cost and pains laid out upon 
them." In this period we may precisely locate the beginning of a rhetorical 
gambit which quickly became a regular feature of the oratory, an exquisite 
calculation, moment by moment, of the mathematical infinity of torture. 
It appears, for instance, in Cotton Mather's preface to Lee's Great Day of 
Judgment in 1692: 

Suppose an heap of as many Little Poppey-seeds, as according to the old 
Ptolemaick System, would fill the whole Machin of the World, and no more 
than one of them in a Thousand Years fetch'd away, but the Sinner in Anguish 
till the heap were all wasted so, behold, and be amazed' All this Long while would 
be as a Drop to the Ocean, ComparM with that Forever! that horrible Forever! 
whereto the Torments of the Damned shall be Lengthened. 

Increase made it more clear than Wigglesworth had done in The Day of 
Doom that "some wfll have a more intolerable Hell of it than others shall" 
a reflection in which the New Engknd mind now took a satisfaction it 
had not known or needed in the first days. From here it was a short step 
for Benjamin Wadsworth to commence his ministry at the First Church 
with a half-conscious revelation of the hidden drift of the conception : since 
a person in such inconceivable misery wfll be no nearer the end after mil- 
lions of ages, the law of self-preservation, "originally Imprinted on the 
nature of man," indicates his duty to avoid it. On days of public renewal, 
the fires of hell burned most brightly, so that by their glare the baptized 
might read the law of nature. (The Westminster Confession did indeed 
say that there was enough light in nature to render the unconverted "inex- 
cusable," but the demonstrations of a scholastic physics were of a different 
order of persuasiveness from these economical calculations.) 

In this decade appear several further rhetorical tropes which also are 
transparent efforts to play upon an enlarged range of emotions. About 1695 
Increase Mather began to announce his impending demise and to urge 
listeners to take advantage of his preaching while there was still time: "I 
have more reasons then I shall express, to believe that my Opportunities of 


Serving any ... in New-England, are very near unto their end." So 
theatrical a gesture John Cotton would have scorned; it recalls John 
Donne's preaching in his shroud, and just as Donne made himself one of 
the sights of London, so Increase's long-drawn-out dissolution (continuing 
for twenty-eight years) became the major histrionic spectacle of Boston. 
The fervid style of Cotton Mather led the way from the plain manner of 
the seventeenth century to the sentimentalism of the eighteenth; to appre- 
ciate the unique and not entirely enviable place he occupies in the history 
of American prose, we must realize how he launched upon his career deeply 
convinced that he had to "bestow a few Joggs and Pulls upon my Sleeping 
Hearers." From the beginning he labored for a jogging technique, where- 
fore many of his inventions sound to us as though derived, not from the 
sinuous rhythms of Hooker and Shepard, but from those of Pyramus and 

Let us Beware of every Sin, for Sin will Turn a Man into a Devil, oh! Vile 
Sin, horrid Sin, Cursed Sin, or, to speak a more Pungent word than all of That, 
oh, Sinful Sm, how Pernicious art thou unto the Souls of Men' 

Along with a schematic enumeration of the units of eternal torment, he 
refined his calculus of the approaching end of the world "we are doubt- 
less very near the Last Hours of that Wicked One" and of the nearing 
conflagration, when this stage upon which the sinner enacts his crimes shall 
appropriately become "the Scaffold of his Execution." Drunk with the 
fumes of Chiliasm (and little noting that he and his generation were drift- 
ing into a purely lineal conception of time, in which the possibility of any 
sort of end was becoming remote), Cotton Mather began to proclaim that 
already accomplished which he shortly expected, and so mounted to his 
most rapturous flights in a confidence that he had not long to wait for his 
triumph : 

I do firmly expect, a NEW REFORMATION to be begun; a REFORMATION more 
Glorious, more Heavenly, more Universal far away than what was in the former 
Century; together with most formidable Desolations to be HaiPd from Heaven, 
upon those that shall incurably retain an Antipathy to this REFORMATION. 

On the brink of so magnificent a chasm, what else could New England do 
but "go forth to meet this Blessed Reformation"? 

In the rush of eloquence there was no time for pausing over scholastic 
distinctions between natural and spiritual abilities. And precisely here, in the 
absence of such circumspection, we perceive the direction of the process, 
intellectual as well as social. For more than a generation after 1689, no 
New England writer except Stoddard produced anything worth remarking 
in the way of a purely theological treatise. True, through two hundred and 
fifty lectures Samuel Willard undertook a systematic review of the colony's 
theology, and left behind him an immense manuscript, A Comfaat Body 
of Divinity. This is indeed New England's summ^ but it codifies the sys- 


tern imported in 1630 and since then become rigid; it is not at all modified 
(as is the Magnalia) by any American experience. Otherwise the clergy 
published little (and preached little) beyond what we may roughly call 
"practical theology" which in this context meant incessantly calling the 
people to reformation and thundering at the lassitude of the baptized. The 
key works are A Midnight Cry and The Barren Fig Trees Doom: the 
emphasis is upon the summons to action, let theology define capability as 
it may. Of course, all these preachers were loyal to The West-minster Con- 
fasten, nor did they in any explicit particular renounce the intellectual ar- 
chitecture that formed the first part of this study: they simply stopped 
talking about it, while concentrating upon getting results. They would not 
understand what I mean, but actually in this fashion they were becoming 
Americanized all the more speedily because, not obtaining the results they 
desired, they had to redouble their endeavors. 

One remarkable consequence of this exertion was the unabashed mobili- 
zation of the concept of preparation into the service of Mather's "REFOR- 
MATION," whereby the obligation that legitimately rested upon the baptized 
was extended to all inhabitants. Cotton Mather always declared that regen- 
eration comes from above, but his life-long message ran, "You may make 
a Tryal. There can be no hurt in trying, whether you can turn and live, or 
no." An unregenerate creature does not prepare himself, nevertheless (the 
number of sentences in Cotton Mather's writings which turn, diagram- 
matically, upon this crucial "nevertheless" are legion), "If he do what he 
can, there is a probability that God intends to help him, so that he shall do 
more than he can." By 1699 Mather had his theology wonderfully simpli- 
fied: "Try whether you can't give that Consent; if you can, 'tis done." 

Here, then, we are at a crisis in American cultural history. It was indeed 
Arminian heresy to suppose that the talent of common grace might be im- 
proved by unassisted nature into a claim upon divine grace; nevertheless 
( again 1) in the attempt there is "a Vital Efficiency." Before they cross the 
threshold of election, "Men have a Natural Power, as to the External part 
of Religion." And it stands to reason or at least to what stood for reason 
after the old charter was lost that if they do all they can out of natural 
power, "there would be a greater Likelihood (I say not, a Certainty, but a 
Likelihood,) that God would grant them that Higher Power." The paren- 
thesis preserved technical orthodoxy, even though by the skin of the preach- 
er's teeth; yet when consigning the qualification to a parenthesis, he sig- 
nified that at the end of the century any one in New England who wanted 
baptism could, regardless of ancestry, have it for the asking. 

Considering toward what renovations this argument was tending (the 
ghost of Mistress Hutchinson would be regarding it wryly, as would also 
the specters of Davenport and Charles Chauncy), it seems the more re- 
markable that leaders never asked themselves how they reconciled what 
they were doing with their Calvinism. Yet to raise this question is to forget 
how fundamental changes in a society do come about, how imperceptibly 


alterations of custom infect the ideology, or how ideology, submitting to 
unforeseen pressures, yields up novel warrants. The ministers copiously de- 
nounced Arminianism even while expanding the covenant in every direc- 
tion, and they could continue lo do so, until one should arise to accuse them 
of having become, to all practical purposes, Arminian although by that 
time they would no longer be capable of understanding what their accuser 

Thus the day on which a church renewed its covenant became an occa- 
sion for numbers of townspeople to petition for baptism. Theoretically the 
rite remained a seal upon the Covenant of Grace, administered only to 
converts or to the seed of converts, but during the 1690's it became in 
actual fact a certification of natural abilities which might in all "Likeli- 
hood" be elevated. In 1705 Samuel Danforth conducted what his peers 
regarded as an eminently successful renewal at Taunton, giving liberty to 
everybody "from sixteen years old and upwards to act with us"; Cotton 
Mather, using terms carefully, noted that Danforth thus brought several 
hundred "Inhabitants" to enter (cheerfully') into the engagement, and 
complimented him upon "bringing that popular and vicious Town to a 
wonderful Reformation." 

In 1689, while busily setting these mechanisms to work, the clergy, 
happy in their regained freedom of action, yet apprehensive lest some sort 
of charter should curtail it, were listening attentively for any suggestion 
Increase Mather might convey, through his mouthpiece in Boston, as to 
further instruments. Soon the signal came: there are ways in which the old, 
the not only detrimental but now meaningless schism of Congregational- 
ism and Presbyterianism can be healed. In the mother country, such ac- 
commodations are actually under way, and these would be immensely as- 
sisted were New England to imitate them; there would also be an added 
advantage that the colonies could thus create a further agency of control, 
and so would need to rely even less upon the civil magistrate. 

After thirty years of the Restoration and the Clarendon Code, of 
James II and his Declarations of Indulgence, English Presbyterianism, 
hastening into the shelter of the Toleration Act, was no longer the haughty 
exclusiveness that Dr. Child almost brought down in wrath upon Win- 
throp's enterprise. Driven underground, it had survived by breaking into 
congregations; out of that ordeal, it emerged with a chastened realization 
that a solid theological front was more important than uniformity of polity. 
After all, New England (protected by its charters) had achieved just about 
everything to which Presbyterianism aspired: was there any longer reason 
for splitting the forces of Nonconformity over academic distinctions be- 
tween classis and synod when synod had proved every bit as effective as 
classis? Might not men of good will contrive a politic definition in which 
both could be reconciled, and so stand against either Lambeth or a Quaker 

Increase Mather reached London at the fortunate moment when the 


two segments of Dissent had learned through adversity that the issues of 
polity no longer mattered; they were eager to come together on funda- 
mentals, but needed the help of a neutral whom both could respect. Mather 
was received in complete amity by Presbyterians by Baxter and John 
Howe, by Dr. Daniel Williams and actually found himself more at home 
among them than with the ragged survivors of Independency, albeit one 
of these was his brother. Smuggled out of Andros* Dominion, he was 
ideally suited to serve as broker for the shattered ranks of Cromwellian 
Puritanism, and his mission succeeded where Franklin's eighty years later 
could not, because he could present himself in Whitehall not so much as an 
agent for America as the plenipotentiary for English Nonconformity. No 
wonder, therefore, that the cause in whose name he won the charter should 
inspire in Boston corresponding efforts to show how, despite long and re- 
grettable struggles, Presbyterianism and the New England Way were basi- 
cally in accord. 

The Toleration Act was passed on May 24, 1689. Within a matter of 
weeks, representatives of the two denominations met in London, and by 
July of 1690 progressed so far as to establish a common fund for the aid 
of impoverished churches, to be administered by seven Congregationalists 
under the leadership of Matthew Mead and seven Presbyterians headed by 
John Howe. In October, the ministers of Boston, Cambridge, and adjacent 
towns assembled at Harvard College to form the "Cambridge Association" 
(Increase Mather, although still abroad, was enrolled as a charter mem- 
ber). The sequence of events is explicable: Cotton was producing evidence 
to bear out Increase's claim that Congregationalism permitted governing 
bodies so closely analogous to a Presbyterian classis that further dissension 
was pointless. 

New England could argue that in its history there was precedent for 
such associations; the pure fathers had set up regular conferences in the 
1630's, and Roger Williams added to the head and front of his offense by 
accusing them of Presbyterianism. Whether or not because of his attack, 
these conferences had fallen into neglect by the middle of the century (after 
the Synod of 1662 they would have been impolitic), but this lapse could 
blithely be disregarded by the Cambridge Association when asserting that it 
embodied nothing more than the old Congregational principle of "con- 
sociation." For several years the ministeis in the neighborhood had been 
coming to town for certain public lectures or for election sermons; now 
they simply organized themselves "in a more significant manner," out of 
a hearty admiration for "the UNION of their Brethren at London." Hence- 
forth they would meet every month, "at the College in Cambridge, on a 
Monday at nine or ten of the clock in the morning." Inspired by their exam- 
ple, other regions formed associations, and by 1705 five of them were 
functioning. (On October 3, 1692, it was to the Cambridge Association 
that Increase Mather read Cases of Conscience, and by using it as the 


agency of informing and directing opinion, a month before the book was 
printed, he brought the Salem court to an end.) 

At the first session in Cambridge, the role of synods was discussed j the 
decision reflecting New England's disillusion with, or anxiety concerning 
the future of, autonomous churches held that synods ought to be rev- 
erenced "as determining the mind of the Holy Spirit" and in that sense be 
acknowledged "decisive." Thus supported, Cotton Mather hastened, as 
quickly and emphatically as possible, to proclaim that "the differences be- 
tween Independents & Presbyterians, are so swallowed up, as that only the 
Substantiate of Religion are become the Terms of our Communion*" Should 
Presbyterians still be suspicious, let them know that synods in New England, 
although theoretically limited only to the clarification of terms, "Rarely, 
if Ever, fail of putting an Issue to any Controversies, which they meet 

So Increase Mather could hold his head high amid English Dissenters: he 
had the formula of accord. Presbyterians ungrudgingly admired New Eng- 
land's record: men like Baxter and Dr. Williams knew how effectively the 
Synod of 1637 had squelched Antinomianism (whereas English Presby- 
terianism, at the height of its power, had not been able to suppress Quakers 
and Anabaptists), how the Synod of 1662 reconciled Congregationalism 
with the facts of procreation, how the Synod of 1679 magisterially set forth 
a program of reformation (such as they would have loved to prescribe for 
England). Consequently John Howe, foremost theologian among the Dis- 
senters, who in his youth had been an Independent, appealed to the ambas- 
sador from New England. A Congregationalism that functioned like Pres- 
bytenanism was obviously the answer to Nonconformity's dire necessity 
(especially since few Nonconformists were any longer so confident about 
their readings of the passages on polity m the New Testament). These 
mighty figures of the capital, upon whose published words provincials hung 
for intellectual tutelage, turned to the provincial emissary for guidance 
through an enterprise for which his experience had been a better training 
than theirs. 

On April 6, 1691, the two parties crowned their concord by issuing The 
Heads of Agreement, which Howe, Mead, and Increase Mather had com- 
posed with exquisite care. They showed how far the Puritan mind had 
traveled in the fifty years since Presbyterians and Independents sabered each 
other at Dunbar and Worcester by thankfully accepting "the favour of 
our Rulers in the present Established Liberty" and by disavowing all 
thought of coercion. Let us also abandon, they exhorted each other, jeal- 
ousies and carnal suspicions, and so "reduce all distinguishing Names, to 
that of UNITED BRETHREN." Mead preached a moving sermon on "Two 
Sticks made one." Increase Mather, who had cause enough to congratulate 
himself upon his charter, preened himself even more for the decisive part 
he played in negotiating this treaty: he dreamed that out of it would come 


not only a great, solidified Dissenting power in England, but a solution for 
New England's ecclesiastical problem. 

Immediately upon receiving a text of the Heads, his enthusiasm set in 
motion, Cotton Mather preached Blessed Unions y dedicating the publica- 
tion to Howe, Mead, and his father. He smugly boasted that New England, 
having long practiced "those very Principles upon which our European 
Brethren do now Unite," was a standing exhibition of the union toward 
which "your most Evangelical Souls have been aspiring." In the North 
Church (at least there, if not in others) "the Name of PRESBYTERIAN and 
CONGREGATIONAL (Yea, and EPISCOPAL too, when Piety is otherwise vis- 
ible) and I may add, the Name of ANTIPEDOBAPTIST, Likewise, is of no 
Consideration 5 both, yea all together do, As one man carry on the Affairs 
of our Lords Ecclesiastical Kingdom." The implication was clear: let the 
rest of the country drop local jealousies and unite into associations; these 
would develop centralized powers, and then nobody need worry because the 
magistrate had become an official of the Crown rather than of the saints. 

The Heads of Agreement, a masterpiece of diplomacy, seems at first 
sight more Congregational than Presbyterian. There is indeed no specific 
mention of the church covenant (had there been, Howe would not have 
signed), but it defines the church as a competent number of visible saints 
consenting together; it does not give authoritative jurisdiction to the classis 
(if it had, Mead would have refused), but it requires neighboring churches 
to be consulted about the choice of a pastor, and particular churches not to 
dissent, without explicit warrant from Scripture, from the advice of the 
surrounding pastors in all cases of internal dispute. Were this rule observed, 
New England would be safe. Should the association assume dictatorial pow- 
ers, the cry would go up of treason and subversion; but could the people 
be persuaded to accept directives from bodies put upon a regular footing, 
the churches could rule themselves without the help of magistrates. So, dis- 
daining George Keith's sneer that the once free congregations were "almost 
wholly degenerated, if not altogether, into a Presbyterian Laxeness," Cot- 
ton Mather hailed the Reads by reciting New England's deep, long-held 
respect for such Presbyterians as John Howe and Dr. Williams. 

Hardly had Increase come home, glowing with the satisfaction of one 
who has wrought a wonder, than distressing news followed him: the Eng- 
lish Congregationalists were muttering that the Union was "a Verbal Com- 
position" contrived "with great ambiguity," that it was at bottom a Presby- 
terian plot. They dug up the fact that John Howe had supinely yielded to 
the Five Mile Act, and whispered that the amalgamation was a trick to 
lure them all into "Sacramental Communion" with the Church of England. 
Ominously enough, this discontent was agitated by two scions of New 
England: by Increase's brother, Nathanael Mather, minister in Paved 
Alley, Lime Street, and by Isaac Chauncy, Harvard College 1651, son of 
that same President Chauncy who fought the Half- Way Covenant on the 
ground that it would lead straight to Presbyterianism. Then, at the worst 


possible moment, Dr. Williams, whom many called "the Bishop of the. 
Dissenters," elected to denounce in a sermon at Pinners Hall the recently 
republished works of Dr. Tobias Cnsp. Within two years the United 
Brethren were divided more hopelessly than ever, and Increase Mather's 
great work was ruined. 

In other words, an institutional compromise that promised a political suc- 
cess which every participant desired was wrecked by the recrudescence of 
the most divisive issue in seventeenth-century theology, which all hoped 
was buried. The book that did the damage had been written in the 1640's, 
at the moment English Independency lunged toward heresies as abhorrent 
to American Congregationalists as to English and Scottish Presbyterians. 
Tobias Crisp, who died in 1643, commenced, like Saltmarsh, as an ortho- 
dox federalist, basing the Covenant of Grace between man and God upon 
an anterior Covenant of Redemption between Chnst and the Father, in 
which Christ had undertaken to fulfill the law in man's stead. But from 
this premise, Crisp came to the conclusion, as did Anne Hutchinson, that 
the Covenant of Grace had nothing to do with moral behavior, and that 
therefore no ethical duty could be imposed upon, or any response expected 
from, mankind. In New England eyes, Cnsp figured as an arrant Anti- 
nomian ; the founders had tried in vain to warn their Independent brethren 
against tolerating him. Now in 1690 his son Samuel edited Tobias* remains 
under the disturbing title, Christ Alone Exalted. The irenical movers of 
the Union allowed themselves to become so intent upon their organizational 
project as to forget theology, and therefore both Howe and Increase 
Mather joined Nathanael Mather and Isaac Chauncy in attesting that 
Samuel Crisp had accurately transcribed his father's manuscripts. On the 
whole, Increase Mather made few mistakes; when he did, like the kte 
Mayor of New York, he perpetrated a beauty: his signing the foreword to 
Crisp was perhaps his most unfortunate gaff. 

Richard Baxter first took alarm ; Howe begged him not to endanger the 
Union, and he held off. But nothing could stop Dr. Williams: after two 
years of sober consideration, he deliberately used the joint lectur- to excori- 
ate "Crispianism." Thereupon the flames that Howe and Increase Mather 
believed they had smothered flared up as furiously as in the 1640's. Wil- 
liams published Gospel Truth Stated and Vindicated, the first edition bear- 
ing an endorsement of sixteen ministers, the second that of forty-nine all 
of them Presbyterians. Nathanael Mather and Isaac Chauncy prepared a 
"Paper of Exceptions"; the fund was divided, Congregationalists withdrew 
from the Union, and in 1694 Williams, Bates, and Howe set up a separate 
and strictly Presbyterian lecture at Salters Hall. For seven years raged one 
of the bitterest pamphlet warfares in English church history Isaac 
Chauncy being the principal and most aggressive Congregational spokes- 
man to the great chagrin of the Cambridge Association in Massachu- 
setts, which had been serenely dedicated to the proposition that Congrega- 
tionalists and Presbyterians were brethren under the skin. 


One gauge of what had happened to the New England mind since it 
let itself become so heedlessly concentrated on organizational matters, such 
as the Half- Way Covenant, is the fact that it could barely understand, let 
alone mediate, the controversy. Federal theology had always hypothesized 
the Covenant of Redemption as preliminary to the Covenant of Grace: it 
was "the Consultation that Passed between God the Father and the Son, 
at the Council-Table of Heaven, when there was none else present, but 
that Principal Secretary of State, the Holy Spirit of God, who has Revealed 
it." (The idea was much older, but in 1706 Cotton Mather thus phrased 
it prefacing his sentence with an "as I may say" indicating by his phrase- 
ology something of the effect which the incorporation of Massachusetts Bay 
into the British empire had upon the imagery, not to say upon the thought, 
of provincial Boston! ) Because of this heavenly protocol, grace is "free" 
that is, irrespective of human merit. In 1693, the thoughtful Willard, dis- 
tressed by news from London, published The Doctrine of the Covenant of 
Redemption hoping that it might help bring the factions together, or at 
least explain where New England stood. He was convinced that the rela- 
tion of the two Covenants might still be so stated as not to mean that a 
sinner should give over all endeavor or that preparation was futile. Man is 
not to rest in security amid his vices, trusting Christ to do everything for 
him. Why, these colonials pleaded, could not their friends in England agree 
upon so simple a statement and not quarrel over words? If this sort of Cal- 
vinism had become plausible on one side of the Atlantic, why not on the 

In England agreement proved impossible because the line of thought 
which Cnsp embodied was too deeply embedded; it might have become 
equally rooted in New England had not the Synod of 1637 so ruthlessly 
exterminated Antinomianism, had not the conception of preparation been 
so subtly but decisively enthroned, or had not objectors to the Half- Way 
Covenant been so effectively silenced. America was difficult but relatively 
simple: in 1662 (or in the years thereafter) the dominant party was able 
to impose upon the land a single definition of the powers of the semi- 
regenerate; but England was hopelessly complex, nor, during the years of 
persecution, had Puritanism been able to maintain intellectual, let alone 
ecclesiastical, uniformity. Under the Restoration, too many of them felt 
the almost irresistible pull of the doctrine of "absolute" covenant, and im- 
proved their misfortune by pronouncing strictures against every semblance 
of natural ability. For instance, John Bunyan, no university graduate and 
therefore not skilled in those academic distinctions by which depraved in- 
ability could be transformed into an ability of some sorts: he said that the 
Covenant of Grace is not made with sinners at all, but reaches the elect 
only because God has previously consented with Christ in the Covenant of 
Redemption. Likewise, Thomas Boston fulminated against the slightest 
suggestion that the Covenant of Grace might be termed "conditional," and 
therefore insisted that there were no distinctions, not even verbal, between 


it and the Covenant of Redemption. Hence, when Tobias Crisp's exaltation 
of Christ alone reappeared in 1690, those closest to the Calvinism of early 
Puritanism who like Nathanael Mather and Isaac Chauncy had never 
been obliged to dilute their absolutist^ theology in order to keep children 
within the church welcomed it as a banner of the good old cause. When 
Dr. Williams said that Crisp destroyed all morality and gave full license to 
blasphemers and murderers, they raised the ancient batdecry, and accused 
him of Arminianism, Pelagianism or if those were no longer explicit 
enough, of what Chauncy called "Neonomianism." 

In this renewed dispute, old stubble was thoroughly threshed anew, to 
the tune of vigorous insult and a most un-Chnstian calling of names. One 
fact is of supreme importance: the Presbyterians freely cited, as being 
wholly on their side, the record of New England Increase Mather having 
placed it at their disposal. "My heart akes to think of the late stirs in the 
New-England Churches, occasioned by Master Wheelwrite, Mistress 
Hutchinson, and their followers, especially when I consider, that this very 
Tenent, No Condition in the Covenant, had a great influence thereon, if it 
were not the mam cause thereof." Declaring their position "the general 
Tenent of our Brethren in New England," the Presbyterians adduced (al- 
most too ostentatiously) not only the Synod of 1637 but Thomas Hooker, 
Peter Bulkeley, John Norton, and even those venerable architects of Non- 
Separatist Congregationalism, Perkins, Preston, and Ames, whose writings 
still furnished the content of Harvard's ministerial training. By asserting 
that the Covenant of Grace is not absolute that it remains distinct from, 
although founded upon, the Covenant of Redemption they capitalized 
upon what New England had come painfully to learn: the intrinsic worth 
of preparation and of such exertions of will as the colonial clergy demanded 
from the baptized. Denying that they preached salvation by works, English 
Presbyterians asserted that, through the atonement of Chnst, man's imper- 
fect deeds are accounted to him for righteousness wherefore he should 
perform deeds. As against this imperfectionism, the world had learned how 
Crisp's kind of perfectionism opens the floodgates of depravity: "New Eng- 
land hath felt the Troubles it occasioned. And many places in Old England 
are now suffering." 

For the provincial clergy to have their land made the vindication of the 
central paradox of Protestantism was flattering, but to have such praise 
heaped upon them at this particular moment was embarrassing. They had 
rallied to support the Union, proud that it imitated the New England sys- 
tem, and had out-done themselves in complimenting Presbyterians. For 
decades their every adjustment to circumstance had meant enlarging the 
sphere of preparation, of hypocrisy, of unregenerate liability, and now they 
were busily encouraging natural inhabitants to renew a covenant never 
heretofore sworn. But they were not, they could not become, Presbyterians. 
Their churches were particular, not national: they still guarded a sacred 
precinct (even though it seemed steadily contracting) into which no mere 


renewers but only visible saints might enter, not because of preparation but 
only because of a demonstrable calling and an act of liberated will. The 
clergy were haunted by the thought that possibly Nathanael Mather and 
Isaac Chauncy m London were more faithful to the precepts and the spirit 
of the founders than they in Boston who most extravagantly professed ven- 
eration of their common grandfathers. 

Once the dispute in England got out of control, New Englanders had 
no choice but to keep from being involved. Increase signed a book by John 
Flavel which sought to prove that the differences between Dr. Williams' 
Neonomianism and Isaac Chauncy's Antmomianism were merely formal. 
Searching out what the founders had written, the ministers doggedly in- 
sisted that the Covenant of Grace "is built upon the Covenant of Redemp- 
tion," and that further dispute was idle. At Willard's funeral in 1707, 
Pemberton reminded the Old South that Willard's treatment of the Cove- 
nant of Redemption gave them, at one and the same time, "the sovereignty 
and freeness of divine grace displayed, and the stability of the believers sal- 
vation asserted" which answered the criticism of either side in England 
and so ought to be enough for America. What happened to the Union was, 
as Cotton Mather wailed, "no less Unaccountable unto us, than Uncom- 
fortable." Years after The Heads of Agreement had become in England a 
dim memory, New Englanders kept on pleading for it as that which obliter- 
ated all reason for estrangement between them and the rest of Noncon- 
formity; they enshrined it, along with The Cambridge Platform, among 
the symbols of the New England Way. Preaching before an undoubtedly 
astonished Bellomont in 1700, Cotton Mather held it a glory of the local 
system that it took neither side in an already defunct controversy: 

The Neonomian and Antinomian Errors, about that Great Point of A Sinners 
Justification before God, which have bred such a Scandalous Contention, among 
the Non. Conformists beyond Sea, have not yet straggled over the Atlantic, among 
this People of God. The two Covenants, that of Works, and that of Grace, are 
not here so confounded, as in many other places. 

This theological neutrality was not so naive as we might suppose: if no rude 
questions were asked, there would be no necessity that enlargements of 
preparation and of hypocrisy, of the social obligations of the baptized, of the 
ritual of renewal, would have to be either defended against the charge of 
Arminianism or too closely reconciled with a doctrine of strict predesti- 

Yet if the English Presbyterians were using New England to bolster 
their arguments against Independents, was New England not then tarred 
with a Presbyterian brush? Isaac Chauncy was attacking the very same 
gentlemen for whom Cotton Mather had published his admiration, men 
who, said Chauncy, preach a "Grotian, Pelagian Divinity." In defense of 
his father, Samuel Crisp portrayed the citizen who "comes with his Gifts, 
good Nature to forgive his enemies," and plaintively whines, "I have lived 


well, and I don't doubt but God will have mercy on me when I die, for 
Christ's sake." Who was this creature if not both the target of all New 
England jeremiads and he whom Bunyan named "Ignorance" because his 
heart told him that his heart and his life agree together? And yet this per- 
son was performing everything the jeremiads meant by "REFORMATION," 
he who would never know, said Crisp, whether or not he was converted, 
who would never learn to work "from a Divine Principle, from the new 
Nature received, that is to say from Life." He "labours and toils all Night, 
and catcheth nothing." A national Presbyterian system might pardonably 
keep a visible church going even while admitting that most members caught 
nothing, but in order to perpetuate these American institutions, a consider- 
able portion of the recruits had annually to demonstrate that they did work 
out of a divine principle, that they were not luxuriously crossing the river 
with the help of Vain-Hope. Because there had proved to be so many 
difficulties about detecting visible, let alone indubitable, saints, the easiest 
solution would have been to give over trying; but for better or worse, New 
England was what the founders had made it, and there was bound to be a 
point beyond which preparation, or venturing upon a trial, simply could 
not be pressed. There had to be some technique which, though it might 
make copious allowance for the guile of hypocrites, could still be confident 
of its grounds for discrimination. Unless such a technique did truly exist, 
congregations could no longer be urged to venture upon the second sacra- 
ment; without it, the baptized would live in perpetual doubt, amid increas- 
ing doubt, as to whether the proper qualification ever could be ascertained. 
The literature of the 1690's shows the skepticism becoming endemic. 
The collapse of the Union, curiously enough, accentuated it: here, all had 
supposed, was the great chance for the colonies to rejoin the main stream 
not only of the British empire but of English theology and religious life; 
with the disruption, New England was thrown back upon itself, upon its 
narrow foundations, upon its inability to conceive of issues outside the 
rigid framework of a federal jeremiad. Had the Union stood, New Eng- 
land might have become a third force, equal in prestige with English Pres- 
byterianism and Independency; but when the project failed, it was reduced 
to a mere frontier post, its doctrines and its history of no use to any but 
itself. For the next generation it would have to pick up such crumbs as, in 
Cotton Mather's revealing phrase, "straggled over the Atlantic." 

Hooker and Shepard had searched the dark places of the soul with surgi- 
cal skill, yet to the simplest of their listeners they imparted enough of that 
"particular certainty" which meant the life of their polity. Preachers in the 
1690's had accumulated a more varied knowledge of the intricacies of the 
psyche: Cotton Mather's Diary is perhaps the fullest confessional any man 
ever recorded, especially as so little of it is, like Pepys's or Sewall s, uncon- 
scious; Willard was a tender doctor of melancholia, as in his Spiritual 
Desertions Discovered and Remedied in 1699 and A Remedy Agdnst 
Desfatr in 1700. But as the decade wore on, such expert analyses excited 


not particular certainties but confusion and distress. In the splurge of re- 
newal, the sharp line between preparation or hypocrisy and genuine con- 
version became blurred, and renewers found themselves, the day after, once 
more in the dark. Hence thousands preferred to remain transfixed, amid 
perplexity, in their half-way status, expending their anxiety in repeated 
commitments; they could not venture where more self-assurance was re- 
quired. Willard consigned the barren fig tree to a heap of burning rubbish 
and in the next paragraph said that because God keeps the secret of 
election to Himself, "therefore all our endeavours must needs be under 
uncertainties, and the issue must be dubious to us." There seemed less 2nd 
less comfort in the right by inheritance- "If Godly Parents," said Cotton 
Mather, "have many Children, it is very seldome seen that All of them 
do prove Ungodly; but it is very often seen, that some of them do so." 
Furthermore, it was sufficiently obvious that persons who once gamed ad- 
mission because they put on a good enough show to qualify, although there 
might be reason to doubt their sincerity, became immune to the federal 
threat: "when the necessity of Confession, repentance and holy life is 
pressed, they regard it not, if Christ's love to them be thus confirmed & the 
pledges of their Salvation by Christ be thus given them." 

Here was a dilemma: on the one hand, sinners should not profane the 
Communion, but on the other, "the best that come into the Church have 
done worse then we know of or then we can oblige them to confesse pub- 
lickly." The people objected when ministers exercised too great charity, but 
rebelled against strict measures. Cotton Mather could never get over the 
prodigious and astonishing scandals occasioned by many who made a more 
than ordinary profession, and in the Magnalia compulsively held them up 
to public scrutiny. More and more he was obliged to lament how difficult 
it is "to open and explain, even to a common capacity, all those Narrows 
& Difficulties that be in the way to Life." "The best of Gods people have 
been deserted," crooned Willard, while Cotton was explaining that "all 
Externals of Religion may be done by a man, that has no right Principles 
of Religion within him." How then could a man approve himself, either to 
his examiners or to himself? 

Associations might be formed, and might encourage themselves to think 
that they brought to New England all the advantages of Presbyterianism 
without sacrificing the virtues and guarantees of the covenant; but still 
they confronted the seemingly insoluble antinomy of the Congregational 
sacrament: unless more men were persuaded to take the Lord's Supper, the 
churches would decay; but those who took it without assurance would be 
undone "Totally, Finally, and very Terribly." Hypocrites, as the awesome 
phrase had it, "eat and drink damnation unto themselves," and those who 
approach the table unworthily "do but provoke Him to sanctify Himself in 
terrible plagues upon them" by which their saintly comrades also suffer. 
For the founders, a world in which hypocrites would certainly be burned 
as rubbish but in which we ourselves would never be entirely certain we 


were not hypocritical conveyed a sense of high adventure that is the heart 
of the Protestant experiment; in the elan of it, they had built churches 
out of those whose sanctity was strong enough for the society to lay a 
wager upon. But to found churches in that spirit was one thing; to keep 
them going on a gamble became increasingly difficult, even enervating, 
when the demand for supplying a procession of communicants had become 
a constant social necessity. It was all very well for Cotton Mather to exhort, 
"Do not think now to mock the God of Heaven, by something that Looks 
like a Renewal of your baptismal Covenant, without seeking the Supper 
of the Lord"; even as he said this, he had also to declaim, "unworthy 
partaking at the Supper of the Lord hath been the procuring cause of Sick- 
ness and death among us." Max Weber contends that the Protestant ethic 
became an engine for the creation of the concept of "personality"; here in 
New England was an ethic presupposing a decision which presented per- 
sonality with a choice that might well make it, but seemed more likely 
to break it. 

The ultimate sacrament had, of course, been an ordeal for the found- 
ers, but men like Hooker and Winthrop took it in stride. In 1690, know- 
ing himself on the verge of a new era, full of trepidation as to how his 
society might manage without the strong arm of a federated magistrate, 
Cotton Mather foresaw the blank wall at the end of a long vista of aids 
and devices: "It is a sin to come unworthily to, but it is also a sin to stay 
unworthily from, that Blessed Ordinance." While the masses stood in dis- 
may, or expiated their sense of guilt by renewing their covenant and then 
frantically renewing their renewal, the old-line communicants were pass- 
ing away. In the first years of the new charter, congregations were fairly 
successfully held up to strength, but the "church" shrank, and lay elders 
disappeared. The holy remnant of the righteous, without which no nation 
was ever saved or ever would be saved, but without which a covenanted 
nation would be plunged into inconceivable disaster, dwindled to so meager 
a proportion as to constitute a portent of almost certain destruction. "Lord," 
prayed Samuel Willard, "lead me through this Labyrinth." 




in 1661 from England to the paternal study, In- 
crease Mather was overjoyed to find his beloved brother Eleazar paying a 
rare (because hazardous) visit "from a Remote place where he was now 
Stationed in the country," The next year Solomon Stoddard was gradu- 
ated from Harvard College j in 1669 he succeeded Eleazar and North- 
ampton was indeed remote, as far from Boston as Kansas City today. 
Yet during the 1690 J s every thought uttered by members of the Cam- 
bridge Association on the questions of baptismal obligation, qualification 
for Communion, the United Brethren, or the authonty of associations, as 
well as virtually every sentence of the Magnolia, was silently conditioned 
by an uneasy consciousness of this man in his remoteness. What I have so 
far described as the effort to salvage the covenant appears on the record; 
within that record a secret is concealed the Association was formed in fear 
and trembling lest Solomon Stoddard should speak, but it was prevented 
from attacking him lest it publicly jeopardize the pretense of New Eng- 
land's unity. In every Boston imprint, his is the invisible, uninvited, and 
haunting presence. 

In 1692, the year of witchcraft and of the debacle of the Union, Benja- 
min Colman took his degree. So astute a youth would have heard at least 
whispers about Stoddard's frontier. In 1695, completing his advanced 
studies, he went to England, and there prospered in the society of those 
whom Independents denounced as Arminians. He conducted a sentimen- 
tal flirtation with a minor poetess, providentially named Elizabeth Singer, 
learned the best of manners, and lived with Sir Henry Ashurst near Ox- 
ford. The way is long from Oxford to Northampton, as far as from the 
High Street to Mam Street, but the two stations had one thing in com- 
mon: they were outside the dominion of the Cambridge Association, and 
in them two of the best minds of New England (if for the moment we 
disregard the recluse of Chebacco Parish) could think other thoughts than 
those suggested by Increase Mather. 

Advocates of the Half- Way Covenant gave their sacred pledge that it 
was no innovation, that it would never open the Lord's Supper to un- 
suitable persons or permit them to vote for officers. In that direction, said 
Mitchell, lay "such a piece of ruining confusion" as would become Anabap- 
t'sm; Oakes saw danger in an opposite quarter and warned against turning 


"Councils and Synods into Clases and Provincial Assemblies," which would 
result m such "laxeness in Admission of Members to Communions as is 
pleaded for and practised by many Presbyterians." Scylla and Charybdis 
could be avoided if mere half-way members were resolutely barred from 
the Communion even, declared the younger Shepard, "though they bounce 
at the door." On that understanding, Increase Mather came over to the 
Covenant and thereafter was prevented from ever again changing his 
mind. He was obliged to hold fast this citadel, even while engaged with 
might and main in devising formulae whereby associations might exercise 
consociational powers, or by which baptized children might be induced to 

Eleazar, settled at Northampton in 1659, was Increase's mam support 
in his fight against the Synod; however, in the town itself, the usual situa- 
tion was reversed, and the people were advocates. Eleazar held them off 
until the spring of 1669, when they voted for the measure in his despite; on 
July 24 he died, leaving his widow Esther, daughter of John Warham of 
Windsor, with three children and an estate of 524. While hunting for a 
successor, the church took no further action; in New England, there al- 
ready existed an economical method for meeting this situation: leaving the 
young widow in the parsonage, the town picked an unmarried candidate, 
and let nature take its course. Solomon Stoddard came to demonstrate his 
prowess, and remained to marry Esther, on March 18, 1670. (Thereafter 
the Mathers must call him, even while hating and fearing him, "brother.") 
Esther bore him twelve children and outlived him by seven years; in her 
old age, although "lame of the Sciatica," she kept spinning "at the Linen- 
wheel" until she followed him in 1736, aged ninety-two. 

Even while Stoddard was being tested, the town presented to the Gen- 
eral Court the petition in favor of the Third Church of Boston which pre- 
cipitated revolution among the Deputies. Ordained in 1672, Stoddard 
immediately put the Half- Way Covenant into effect: two forms were pre- 
pared, one "to be used in the admission of members unto state of educa- 
tion," whose children were baptized upon their owning the covenant; the 
other for admission "of members into full communion." Over a hundred 
promptly took up the Half- Way Covenant, and for five years Stoddard 
dutifully kept the customary double-entry ledger. Then, in 1677, without 
warning, without so much as a by-your-leave, least of all from Increase 
Mather, he closed the separate account of baptisms. Thereafter secure in 
his Congregational autonomy but still more in his frontier remoteness he 
baptized every adult who assented to the articles of faith, and admitted him 
to the Supper. He treated the congregation and virtually the whole town 
(there were still a few resolute sinners) as the church; at one stroke he 
cut his way through the maze of the covenants by identifying the church 
not with a society of saints but with the town meeting where he himself 
was dictator. At first he could not carry all the people with him: there 
were times when he "knew not what to do with them," when the heat o 


their contention "was raised to such a degree that it came to hard blows" j 
but he soon won the title of "Pope" by forcing his will upon them. In his 
last years they were with him to a man. 

He came of a stock that knew how to govern. His father, Anthony Stod- 
dard, was the richest of pioneer merchants; his mother, Mary Downing, 
was niece of Governor Winthrop and sister to that accomplished politician 
who gives his name to Downing Street. At his commencement, he main- 
tained the affirmative of "Utrum Deus puniat peccata necessitate naturae," 
and for three years thereafter was librarian of the College, although he 
appears to have spent two of them in the Barbados because of poor health. 
Northampton's committee of three made the long trek across Massachusetts 
to inspect the roster of unemployed Harvard graduates, but had no difficulty 
in selecting. They were the sort of men with whom Stoddard could work: 
Elder John Strong and William Clarke had come with the Great Migra- 
tion, while Medad Pomeroy who spelled himself as he was pronounced, 
"Pumry" was born in Windsor, started life as a blacksmith, but was al- 
ready well along the road to wealth, being a merchant, town officer, asso- 
ciate justice of the county court, and, after 1684, owner of the local mo- 
nopoly on the sale of wine. At the moment they reached Boston, Stoddard 
was about to sail for England: this speaks volumes for his character, since 
few New Englanders were then deliberately putting their heads into the 
mouth of the Clarendon Code; rather, like Increase Mather, they were 
streaming back to colonial security. Dr. Williams lost an able lieutenant 
when Solomon Stoddard turned his face to the west. 

Northampton was no place for a delicate scholar: Eleazar had been lucky 
to last ten years. Stoddard made it a fortress and then a throne; after 1700 
he dominated the Connecticut Valley down to New Haven. Among the 
United Brethren, Increase appeared "the foremost American Puritan," but 
the English are not always informed about domestic American situations; 
at home, Mather's hegemony was already disputed by Stoddard, and within 
a decade leadership was divided between them. Even Indians went in awe 
of Northampton's Pope: during Queen Anne's War, as he paced in medita- 
tion by "Dewey*s Hole" where his grandson was also to exercise an in- 
herited genius for rapt cogitation he was ambushed; a Frenchman took 
aim, but an Indian knocked the gun down, saying that they must not af- 
front the Englishman's God. 

Much of his story is that of any country parson's or of such a rare one 
as was able to rule his people and must be basically similar to John Wise's. 
The town voted him a salary of 100, increased it, and gave him twenty 
acres; for twelve years he lived in Esther's house before he got around to 
building. Children came regularly, as did the "meazels." He was a partner 
with Joseph Parsons in running the sawmill, but later sold out and there- 
after denounced ministers who diverted their holy thoughts into business. 
He had the usual difficulties about collecting his wages, but did better than 
most. He took the lead in civic enterprises chiefly because of him, the 


province built a road to Boston wide enough for wheeled vehicles. Valley 
air agreed with his once frail health, and for fifty-nine years he missed no 
Sabbath or lecture except when on his journey to Boston. 

He Breach? d with strength of Voice and Memory, 
Near Sixty Years, and not a Note at's Eye. 

A servant in Boston cheated his master and brought the payment to Stod- 
dard, who sent it up to town with the command, "I doubt not but you will 
be ready to passe by his offence & beg forgiveness of his sin from God." 
Many a son of Harvard was wrecked, once he got out of the calm of the 
Yard into the turmoil of a town, over the "seating arrangements"; but 
the Northampton committee charged with that ticklish mission, Elder 
Strong, Joseph Hawley, and Elder Clap, desired "Mr. Stoddard to assist 
J em in said work," and nobody uttered a peep. Five of his daughters mar- 
ried parsons one of them the widower William Williams at Hatfield, and 
another (named Esther for her mother) Timothy Edwards at East Wind- 
sor, to whom she bore ten tall daughters and one pale son, whom they 
named Jonathan. At his death in 1729, Stoddard's estate was inventoried 
at 1,126 exclusive of his library of 462 volumes and 491 pamphlets; it 
included ten knives and nine forks. 

These local successes, however, do not explain why Timothy Dwight, 
grandson of his grandson, who knew the inner history of the Valley as none 
of us shall ever know it, said that Stoddard "possessed, probably, more in- 
fluence than any other Clergyman in the province, during a period of 
thirty years." This is a large claim, for those thirty years (the first three 
decades of the century) were also the last of the Mathers' existence. Stod- 
dard was on the frontier, when accepting their call, he told the church 
that "without eyeing that power and grace which God has treasured up 
in Jesus Christ, it were altogether vain for me to attempt such an under- 
taking," and proposed "that light, and peace, and the power of religion 
may be continued in this plantation." He brought the light and power, but 
the enemy no peace. He was the first to get wind of Philip's conspiracy, 
and wrote warnings to Boston which were not heeded in time. In 1676 
the magistrates contemplated abandoning the Valley, only to receive a 
stinging rebuke from Stoddard: "we dare not entertain any thoughts of 
deserting this plantation." After the war, he demanded (and received) 
20 for personal losses, since it would "not answer my occasions to have it 
paid little by little out of the rates of the town." Indians may have rever- 
enced him, but he did not repay the compliment; the autumn before the 
Deerfield massacre (in which his stepdaughter perished) he argued with 
Governor Dudley to train big dogs for hunting down the vermin. Of 
course, did the Indians "manage their warr fairly after the manner of 
other nations," this would be brutality, but "they are to be looked upon as 
theives & murderers, they doe acts of hostility, without proclaiming war 
. . . they act like wolves & are to be dealt withall as wolves." Stoddard 


adjusted his conscience to a world where atrocity was met with atrocity; 
he became a power because he spoke for the Valley, in a forthright, plain 
style such as a neurotic Cotton Mather could never emulate. 

This scion of Boston's merchant aristocracy, grandnephew to John Win- 
throp, asked "brother" Increase in 1685 to write an epistle for his manu- 
script, explaining, "I live in a remote corner & am much unknown." In- 
crease, who was so misguided as to endorse Crisp, was stupid enough to 
refuse this service. Perhaps he was already annoyed because, even as he 
strove to utilize Philip's War to make himself the leader of reformation, 
Stoddard was writing him that the cause of the country's affliction was 
"that intolerable pnde in clothes and hair; the toleration of so many taverns 
especially in Boston, and suffering home dwellers to lie tippling in them." 
It was one thing for Boston's foremost citizen to summon the colony to 
repentance, but another for a Valley parson to put the blame upon Boston. 
Nor did it help when Stoddard learned the next year that in the capital 
existed a Baptist church which Increase had striven to suppress and in- 
formed his exasperated brother, "I fear it will be a meanes to fill that 
Town, which is allready full of unstable persons, with error." 

This man was a personality : 

His venerable Looks let us descry 

He taller teas than, meatt or common size, 

O/ lovely Look, with majesty in's Eyes. 

From Nature** Gate he waWd like Kings on Earth 

There?: scarce such Presence seen Amongst human breath. 

At the Synod of 1679 a venerable delegate from Medway, Mr. Wheelock, 
said it was unjust that ministers should not be "rated" for taxation; Stod- 
dard became, according to Peter Thacher, "high" and called Wheelock 
a liar. The next day, poor Wheelock apologized: "Mr. Stodder did some- 
thing tho' very little" by him. The index to Stoddard's position in the com- 
munity is that every year, at commencement time, he used his road to 
Boston, always delivered the public lecture on Thursday and sometimes the 
election sermon. In 1707, he spoke plainly (Samuel Sewall's italics) "in 
Several Articles against Superstition," and "against excess in Commence- 
m't entertainments"; that night he stormed into Sewall's house, dragging 
along Governor Dudley, and roundly told the good judge that he as a 
magistrate should restrain sinful profusions in Cambridge. Their friend- 
ship stood such strains; year after year, Sewall sent back with him for 
Madame Stoddard a piece of "Commencement Cake," or two pounds of 
"Reasons" and almonds "in a paper bag," or "two half pounds of Chock- 
alat." In 1717 a bereaved Sewall was "refreshed" by a letter from North- 
ampton: "I soked it in Tears at reading," Tn 1721 Stoddard had to give 
over his journeys, but wrote Sewall he was still a "Well-Wilier" to his 
Boston friends. In 1728 Sewall learned "that although you continue your 
Ministerial Labours on the Sabbath and Lecture, which is wonderfull, yet 


now it is with much pain; and you hardly expect to live out the winter"; 
let Stoddard reflect on "the unparalleled constancy of Serviceableness, 
which God has honoured you with, and the Blessings granted you in the 
Serviceableness of your Children and Grandchildren." (Grandson Jona- 
than Edwards was now his colleague.) When the time comes, Sewall con- 
tinued, "I hope you will be enabled joyfully to pronounce Simeon's Nunc 
dimittis. 'Tis more accurately expressed in the Greek, than in our Transla- 
tion. I pray you turn to it, for I cannot tell how to write it." But even for 
old men, especially old Puritans, there were gratifications: Sewall reported 
the death of his doctor and optimistically added, "I have buried very many 
noble Physicians." 

These invasions of the capital show that Stoddard was more than a 
country parson. (We have no evidence that John Wise ever put in an ap- 
pearance.) Upon Stoddard's death, Colman said, "Both Ministers and 
People receiv'd his annual Visits with a peculiar Reverence and Pleasure," 
and Joseph Nash claimed that the Boston clergy lit their candles from his 

He much a Primate and & Prince among 

The Learned, who joy'd to hear his annual Song. 

However, these estimates were penned when the tumult had subsided; for 
many years after 1677, those who lighted their candles from Increase 
Mather's torch were less respectful: but because Stoddard was so mighty 
a figure, they had to be cautious. The Boston Weekly News-Letter of Feb- 
ruary 20, 1729, said that Stoddard was "well vers'd in the religious Con- 
troversies that relate either to Points of Doctrine or Church-Government, 
and was himself a ready and smart Disputant, a wise and judicious Casuist/' 
Increase was then only six years dead, and Cotton but twelve months: it 
was hardly fitting to note that upon them Stoddard had sharpened his dis- 
putant's claws and his casuist's teeth. 

In 1677 Increase Mather received intelligence from the Valley, and, in 
the roundabout manner already imposed upon the election orator, indi- 
cated that something was wrong: naming no names, because his auditors 
knew the name, he piously hoped that no teachers in Israel espoused "loose, 
Large Principles here, Designing to bring all Persons to the Lords Supper, 
who have an historical Faith, and are not Scandalous in Life, altho' they 
never had Experience of a work of Regeneration." Such a practice "would 
corrupt Churches and ruin all in a little time." And then having not yet 
tested the metal of his opponent he reminded the General Court "what 
our Fathers have Taught concerning that matter," and assured them that 
whoever betrays the principles "which they did with much cost and pains, 
dig out of the Rich veins of the Scripture" is automatically reprehensible. 
At this moment may be dated the opening of that vein into which the 
Mathers henceforth, and much of New England after them, were assidu- 
ously to dig: not that of Scripture but of ancestral precedent. 


Increase Mather was master of the Synod of 1679; he could not endure 
the affront of a Stoddard, who unrepentantly came from the Valley with 
two years of heresy behind him. He challenged Stoddard to debate, with 
Urian Oakes as moderator; Oakes was a cautious man, and as soon as the 
dispute grew hot, he managed to have it deferred, "& at present It was 
Eased." In the eyes of the world Mather came off victor, for he wrote the 
Confession of Faith; but Stoddard was on the drafting committee, and 
managed one verbal revision: Mather proposed that persons aspiring to the 
Supper should offer a relation of the work of the spirit; the committee 
changed his clause to read, "a personal and publick profession of their Faith 
and Repentance." Mather thought this still meant authentic profession; 
Stoddard, taking it to signify simply owning the Covenant, went back to 
Northampton unperturbed and ever thereafter contended, "I voted with 
the Rest, and am of the same judgment still." Years later, Increase cut a 
sorry figure as he insisted that Stoddard's version of "the blotting out" of 
the clause was wrong, and that the Synod clearly intended a work of grace 
to be required. Stoddard remained unconvinced. 

In March of 1681 John Russell of Hadley sent to Increase Mather what 
must have been a galling letter: "Our good Brother Stoddard hath bin 
strenuously promoting his position concerning that right which persons 
sound in doctrine of faith, & of (as he calls it) a holy Conversation, haue to 
full Communion." Sparing Increase's feelings, Russell said it was now time 
for those "who were of the Synod in 62" to prove that their propositions 
really would secure the churches from pollution; as for himself, he did 
"everyday sorrowfully increase in satisfaction" that the Half- Way Cove- 
nant "doth tend in the end of the worke (how good soever the end of the 
workers was) to shake & undermine the fundamentall doctrine & practise 
of the Congregational way." But since Increase, by going over, had made 
himself the arch-apologist, then if anything were "doable," Russell could 
not resist saying, "I take the great care of that matter ... to be upon 
your selfe." 

And there the matter rested, for the charter was going down and In- 
crease Mather was distracted; there already had been more controversy 
over the Covenant than the society could stand, and another split over any- 
thing fundamental would wreck it. For the moment, all Increase could do 
was to receive Stoddard's request about his manuscript "it may be a few 
words from your selfe may gain it the greater acceptance" and refuse to 
write a preface* But in 1687 even he could no longer bully the press, and 
Stoddard's The Safety of A 'ff earing at the Day of Judgment was published. 
It was widely read and admired; a second edition appeared in 1729, and 
it was to be a powerful influence in the Great Awakening. As Colman was 
to say in his funeral oration, "among the worthy Remains of his Learning 
and Ministry in Print, the Mantle he has left us, his Safety of appearing in 
the Righteousness of Christ outshines all the rest." Stoddard's book is one 
of the ten or dozen key works of the period, and comes closer than any 


except Bulkeley's and Wise's to being what we might term "original." It 
is the only speculative treatise since the founders and before Edwards that 
makes any constructive contribution to New England theology* 

Or rather, I should say not constructive but destructive: it is virtually the 
only work which, since the Synod of 1637, endeavors to call a halt to those 
tendencies that (in the perspective of time) we would call rationalistic. To 
modern eyes, The Safety of Appearing is difficult to interpret (as it was 
not for Increase Mather) because on the surface it appears to accept com- 
pletely the reformulaticn of Protestant theology which, commenced by 
Ames and Preston, had become the distinctive badge of New England and 
which still purported to guide theologians amid the intricacies of the full 
covenant and the Half-Way Covenant. The great and magnificent dis- 
covery of the federalists, in old England or in New England, was what 
Willard summarized; "we conceive of God's decrees in a rational way . . . 
because else we could entertain no conceptions at all about this glorious 
mystery." Step by step, from Genesis through Hosea, federal theologians 
had interpreted the unfolding of the covenant, finding it progressively con- 
forming to the canons of reason, so that at last in the culmination of God's 
agreement with man, through the office undertaken (also in a covenant) 
by the Savior, man could rationally consent to avail himself of Christ's per- 
formance: reason and arbitrary decree here coincided. Stoddard rejected 
this traditional exegesis; he went back to a bare, naked interpretation of the 
covenant with Abraham as being an imposition of command (such as he 
himself imposed on Northampton), and declared it no rational contract of 
a quid p-o quo, but an absolute fiat. 

Stoddard's strategy was to let the Boston federalists have all that they 
argued for (they, let us remember, had enlarged preparation into a claim 
upon the covenant, admitted hypocrisy to be an adequate qualification for 
external membership, and had received unregenerate children upon a mere 
parental "owning"). It has, he said, been God's manner to deal with men 
"in the way of a Covenant, to that end that men may be encouraged to 
walk in the right way to the obtaining of good." Yes, he agreed, "God 
engages himself by promise to give believers eternal life": He is bound by 
the covenant, and we do indeed know upon what terms salvation may be 
had. But in 1687 he strove to remind his colleagues (as had Anne Hutchin- 
son in 1637) that the ability of man to conform to such terms depends not 
at all upon rational inducement: "The only reason why God sets his love 
on one man and not upon another is, because he pleases." All federalist 
rationalizations (especially those of apologists for the Half -Way Covenant) 
were wrecked upon this rock: "The will of God is sufficient to move him 
to choose one and refuse another." The covenant does not flow from the 
mercy of God, "but he exercises grace freely from His Sovereign Will and 
Pleasure." He would still be infinite in mercy, despite all forms of the cove- 
nant, "if it had pleased him never to exercise any." 

It requires scrupulous caution to apply to one age the terms of another, 


but Stoddard may be descnbed as an anti-rationalist if we remember that 
the rationalism to which he objected was that tentative variety into which 
the Mathers and proponents of the Half -Way Covenant unwittingly dnfted. 
Stoddard did not yet realize, as his grandson was to appreciate, that the 
enemy was a cosmic rationality, an identification of God with the laws of 
motion which, in that very year, Isaac Newton was making public. All 
Stoddard knew was that half-way members were not being converted. So 
he announced his theme: there is a persuasion arising from "rational con- 
viction" which recognizes that other ways are frivolous, which intellectually 
concedes that only through grace is acceptance to be obtained "but this 
perswasion is not sufficient to encourage a soul to venture himself on Jesus 
Christ," Thus advocates of the Half-Way Covenant (who also found vir- 
tues in preparation and in hypocrisy) magnified "common illuminations," 
forgetting that these cannot constitute a human claim upon the divine. Yes, 
the means are to be attended and preaching is a means "periwigs are un- 
lawful" "but the way of reconciliation does exceed the discovery of rea- 
son." The light of nature such light as had crept into the logic of the 
half-wayers cannot confine the free and sovereign decrees of Jehovah. 

The original federalists, whom New England revered, extracted from 
the doctrine of the covenant a method for provisionally determining the 
identity of saints: it all depended on their willingness. Ergo, willing saints 
could be distinguished from the unenabled, and churches should be limited 
to those assured (more or less) of salvation. But Stoddard rigidly con- 
sistent logician that he was employed an opposite reasoning: because the 
Covenant of Grace is dispensed by an inscrutable and unpredictable divinity, 
because it is not reasonable, it is open (in this life, and especially on the 
American frontier) to all men, since no man can tell for sure who is a 
saint. Individuals may attain inward assurance, but there is no objective 
standard. Conversion is a reality, but it "cannot be made evident by experi- 
ence to the world, because the world cannot certainly know." An inevi- 
table but curious corollary follows- all should strive to be the best they can. 
"The meer pleasure of God does decide it, who shall be the objects of his 
love and his hatred. You have no reason to be discouraged because you can 
find no reason in your self of God's love." That a child of godly parents 
will become regenerate is mere probability: "the free will of God is the 
only thing that does determine it; and therefore you have sufficient ground 
of encouragement to accept the offer of salvation." Why should the dictator 
of Northampton refuse anybody because of some fanciful qualification 
erected by a Massachusetts Synod especially when, on the record, that 
qualification had become too complicated to be administered? 

Remembering that Stoddard put his case within the conventional lan- 
guage of the covenant, and paid to it such obeisance that the Mathers 
could never quite accuse him of doctrinal heresy, we may then appreciate 
his role in New England's development: he used traditional logic to turn 
away from calculation and hereditary interest, from the pleasure-pain arith- 


metic cf the jeremiads (he preached, therefore, extremely vigorous and 
effective jeremiads' ) to sheer zeal and piety. He did this by reminding the 
New England mind that its theology was built upon the Deus Absconditus > 
upon Him who graciously utilizes the covenant to execute His unpredictable 
will. Yet the conclusion of Stoddard's treatise was dictated not only by 
theology but by the necessities of the society: as his title declared, all men 
should feel "safe" in coming to the Lord's Supper. "We may safely ven- 
ture our souls upon his word. God assures us that it is so, and gives a large 
account in his word how the thing is brought about." A Christian may not 
know all the subtleties of theology, but he need not worry: he knows what 
"will satisfy his heart that it is sufficient: namely, that God gives this testi- 
mony to it, and invites him to venture upon it." 

Had there been time and leisure in this American society for "pure" the- 
ology, the issue between the Mathers and Stoddard might have been de- 
bated. The former might have had to stand and deliver in which case, our 
intellectual history would have gained in precision. For in the background 
of Stoddard's thought there looms a stark conception of irrational sovereignty 
which goes beyond anything previously entertained in New England, which 
recalls the ruthless pronouncements of Calvin himself, or perhaps those ex- 
altations of the divine transcendence by which Arminius sought to establish 
morality upon arbitrary command. God has "absolute liberty," said Stod- 
dard; He could have glorified Himself in man's ruin, and at no point 
should man listen "unto the cavils and pretences of reason." The most pro- 
found of questions was at stake, but neither the Mathers nor Stoddard were 
able to join the debate on intellectual grounds, for Stoddard's argument had 
an immediate, practical effect. Because the will of God cannot be translated 
into specific qualifications, he called upon every inhabitant of the town to 
venture upon the Lord's Supper: "The call is to every one that will . . . 
So that they that are at a loss about their present condition, have free liberty 
to come as well as others." God requires no more than effort; "There is 
no bar in any man's way." At this point, the Mathers and most of the 
clergy of eastern New England, as well as some westerners, like Russell, 
foresaw the end of the New England Way, and braced themselves for the 
struggle. Hence Increase Mather would write no preface to Stoddard's 
book, and bided his time against the conflict he feared, even while he knew 
that it must come. 

So many pages in The Safety of Appearing sound like conventional doc- 
trine that one wonders how, had the controversy centered on abstract propo- 
sitions, the parties would have defined their real differences. But in the 
actual situation, the fact that loomed largest was Stoddard's indubitable suc- 
cess in bringing his community to such a general repentance as the jeremiads 
called for; having scrapped the Half- Way Covenant, he could achieve in 
1679 and 1683 the first of what he called his "harvests," during which 
"the bigger Part of the Young People in the Town, seemed to be mainly 
concerned for their eternal Salvation." Boston could show nothing like 


them. Hence Stoddard threw down a gauge of battle in the prefatory ad- 
dress to his town (in the space where Increase would not write) : 

I have made it my business to gain Souls to Christ, and build them up in Faith 
and Holiness, principally insisting upon such things as have reached the heart 
of Religion ... I meddle not with those false Doctrines that have been invented 
by men, in opposition to this truth: the Lord hath been pleased to keep these 
Churches sound in the Faith, and does not yet lay a necessity upon his Ministers 
to spend their time in the confutation of such erronious opinions, but I have 
made it my work to establish your hearts in this Truth. 

At Stoddard's funeral, his eldest son-in-law, William Williams, said that 
at the time he had accepted the call to Northampton (which would have 
been when he was marrying Esther) , the work of grace made so deep an 
"experimental" impression upon him "that he always remembr'd it, and 
often spake of it." The Safety of Appearing, in its grappling with the cove- 
nant theology, retains the freshness of this experience; so wonderful was 
Stoddard's sense of it that he was prepared to admit to the Communion 
not only those who made the relation of a similar work, but all those who 
by their good conversation were yet susceptible of it, in the hope that this 
sacrament might become for them an "effectual means." 

While the charter fell, while Andros ruled, while Increase negotiated 
in London, there was none to prevent Northampton's going Stoddard's 
way. Cotton Mather's Companion for Communicants in 1690, asserting 
that only believers should enjoy the Supper, begged the reader's patience 
to let him "Contend earnestly against a sort of men, who tell us, That a 
bare Dogmatical or Historical Faith . . . together with a submission to 
the Government of the Visible Church will entitle a man to Sacraments!" 
He dared not identify this sort of men more closely, but he could deny 
emphatically that the Supper is "a converting Ordinance," and try to work 
on Stoddard's nobler nature by crying that, should we ever forget the old 
Protestant belief in regeneration as the necessary prerequisite, we shall 
"without a meer Fancy, over-hear the dolefull, wofull shout, which was 
audibly sounded from Heaven to Rome, when the Church-Doors began to 
grow as wide as Hell Gates themselves." Two years later, in the glow of 
great expectations aroused by the United Brethren, Cotton suddenly mini- 
mized the differences of New England, since Stoddard as well as he re- 
quired some sort of preliminary action from candidates: "Behold then, a 
Temper, wherein we may, as hitherto we do, in this thing Unite'" But in 
1693 he served notice that if Stoddard ever published anything, "we would 
as Publicldy animadvert upon it." 

The Mathers were in the toils: by enthusiastically supporting the United 
Brethren, by making that name a domestic slogan and flaunting it even 
after the structure had been shattered in London, they did their utmost to 
close the gap between Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. But now 
rumors of still worse developments came from the Valley: Stoddard not 


only opened wide the Supper on the theory that it was a converting ordi- 
nance, but was denying that churches were founded upon covenant; he 
was openly advocating Presbytenanism. With what face could the Mathers 
ever "animadvert" upon him should he appear in print as champion of the 
cause of Howe and of Dr. Williams? In the election sermon of 1696 Cot- 
ton revealed the depths of his insecurity by loudly proclaiming that those 
who upheld the first principles of New England were now being called 

Meanwhile the Mathers had another and a growing worry closer to 
home. Increase's tide, Rector of Harvard College, added to his dignity 
abroad; that he was a non-resident executive, who looked after the College 
only in such moments as he could spare from the Second Church and from 
his innumerable ecclesiastical concerns, did not detract from his stature. The 
College, after 1686, was in the hands of two able tutors, William Brattle 
and John Leverett, the latter a grandson of the great governor of Philip's 
War. It was Increase's responsibility to secure a charter for the institution 
as well as for the colony, since there was doubt about its legal status after 
the old charter was annulled: people were saying that the calf had died in 
the cow's belly. But he was exercised not alone over the constitutional 
footing: there was a terrible dread lest a royal charter should place the 
College under the control of royal governors, and so transform it someday 
into an Anglican school. While he strove to persuade the English govern- 
ment that it should provide by-laws for "an Able and Faithful Ministry," 
Increase also urged that the College "be Confirmed in such Hands as would 
promote virtue and learning" meaning Congregational hands. Across the 
sea, Cotton stood up to exhort colonial authorities to support the "Arts"; 
let them go well, he said, and all things else will go accordingly. 

Significantly enough, in these same years Cotton also began to utter his 
peculiar brand of ominous warnings against the spread among "our unwary 
Children" of an inclination toward those remainders of Popery "which the 
first Reformers were hindered from sweeping out of the English Nation." 
Andros was gone, but King's Chapel remained, and what was worse, at- 
tracted not only sightseers but converts. Thus there was all the greater 
urgency, since Increase had failed to get an authorization for the College, 
that he get one from the provincial legislature, and get it quick while he 
still had Phips and the Councillors he had chosen. So Increase jammed 
through a charter which pointedly omitted overseers or any visitorial power, 
for which the grateful College voted him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. 

For the moment it looked as though all were well; the College made a 
strong team, especially in 1693 when Thomas Brattle joined the tutors as 
Treasurer. They and the Mathers stood firmly together in the witchcraft 
crisis, and no one can locate exactly when the break came. But in retrospect, 
it seems that a split was inevitable. Leverett and the Brattles admired what 
soon became widely celebrated as an "enlarged Catholic Spirit." Of course, 
the Mathers also, having been conspicuously converted to the principle of 


toleration and having extended themselves in support of the United Breth- 
ren, had become as "Catholic" as possible, but these younger men enter- 
tained notions still more "enlarged." During Increase's absence, Brattle 
substituted the logic of Descartes for the crumbling system of Ramus, 
and a graduate of 1687 was later to say that Brattle and Leverett showed 
the greatest hospitality to Anglican authors, especially to latitudmarian 
theologians. And furthermore, instead of bringing peace, the new charter 
brought contention, for the party of Elisha Cooke, smarting over what 
they considered Increase Mather's concessions in London, began to pass 
votes requiring him to reside at the College and devote his full time to it. 
This would in effect exile him, remove him from that center of power 
and propaganda which was the North Church. He refused, and a bitter 
fight commenced. 

If he had supposed that the Crown would let him have his college with- 
out supervision by the Crown's appointee, he was sadly mistaken. The 
charter was disallowed; for the next eight years he and his son struggled 
through draft after draft to get an establishment, agitating furiously by 
every means they could muster to force the legislature to send Increase 
back to England for negotiations on the highest level, and all the time re- 
sisting the demand that Increase pack up and go to Cambridge. The first 
sign of real division in Harvard's ranks appears in 1696, when the Mathers 
and their clerical colleagues protested, without being joined by the names 
of Leverett and Brattle, against a legislative charter which provided for 
visitation by the Governor and Council. At the ordination of Wadsworth 
(their student and known to be their friend), Increase, who in the Council 
had just exhibited an unprecedented "height of rage," spoke "notably" of 
some young men who apostatized from New England principles, "contrary 
to the Light of their education." He submitted a new form of charter in 
1697; William Brattle was resigning his tutorship to become minister in 
Cambridge (thus to be an even greater influence on the College) and 
Leverett was turning to the study of law. Increase's nominations for the 
Harvard Corporation did not include them, but the House of Representa- 
tives voted that John Leverett should be a member. In the midst of these 
distractions (how he did it is a mystery of scholarship), Cotton Mather, 
plugging away at his mighty Magnolia, at this moment completed his biog- 
raphy of Jonathan Mitchell, chief architect of the Half-Way Covenant; it 
was ready for the press, and his father, at the height of his rage, sat down 
on May 7 to dash off a preface for Ecclenastes* 

This remarkable document has been supposed, by students familiar only 
with the eastern regions, to be directed solely against the tutors and their 
friends. When William Brattle migrated from the hall to the church of 
Cambridge, he preached his own ordination sermon (a shocking innova- 
tion, particularly as he should have shown proper respect by inviting In- 
crease), but still worse, he induced his church to vote that the formal and 
public relations of candidates might be dispensed with, that an examination 


by the pastor and elders should suffice, and that the people would signify 
then* assent by silence. This meant that, although yet in a mild form, the 
contagion of Stoddard was spreading. So Increase Mather's preface strikes 
in two directions (still observing, although barely, the convention of calling 
no one by name), both at Cambridge and at Northampton. It marks the 
point where the Mathers realized that the centrifugal forces of a society 
increasing in complexity, released and accelerated by the removal of the 
old charter and by divided political councils, were getting out of control. 
They fought hard, but their backs were against the wall and they could 
only lay about them on either side. 

How the situation looked in Increase's view is shown by the fact that he 
commenced by attacking Stoddard, devoting most of his space to refuting 
him, and only then turned by natural progression to the College. Despite 
the state of his nerves, he tried to be temperate, although his tone probably 
reflects his dread of Stoddard's riposte. Unjustifiable severity, he told the 
churches, should not be used in admissions; candidates need not name the 
exact hour of their conversion, "such especially as have been advantaged 
with a religious education." But a full extreme of laxness is a damnable 
betrayal of the founders, of Mitchell, and of the country. Churches are 
absolutely obliged to inquire not alone into the knowledge and orthodoxy 
of those they receive, but into their spiritual estate. He could not pronounce 
Stoddard's name, but he indicated him clearly enough: "Above all, their 
notion is to be rejected, as a church-corrupting principle, who assert that 
the sacrament is a converting ordinance," for if it were, "then the most 
scandalous persons in the world yea, heathen people ought to have it 
administered unto them." This is dreadful "degeneracy from the reforma- 
tion which we had attained unto." In a desperate and transparently spe- 
cious effort to cover his flanks, Increase had the temerity to insist that Pres- 
byterians concurred in these views, though his nerve so far failed him that 
he invoked only "some of those that are called Presbyterian," and concealed 
the weakness of this dodge by holding aloft the banner of the United Breth- 
ren in whose name, deviation from the principles of Congregational 
fathers became demonstrably treason! Which brought him by a natural 
transition to the Church of Cambridge, to which he penned a little address 
that is a masterpiece of impotent rage expressed in circuitous irony. (There 
was obviously no reason for singling out Cambridge except Brattle's instal- 
lation.) He reminded that body how five years before they had invited no 
less a person than himself, and so he could not but have a dear affection for 
them and hope that they "may be confirmed in those ways of the Lord 
which your fathers, and your selves too, have experienced so much of His 
presence in." He grimly told them that the Lord would require of him an 
accounting for his conduct toward the College, and he relied upon the 
church to help. 

Then he turned to the College itself, without which, he declared, these 
churches cannot subsist: if it degenerates, we are indeed lost. cc You that are 


tutors there, have a great advantage put into your hands (and I pray God 
give you wisdom to know it!) to prevent it." He told them in what was, 
under the circumstances, sheer insult that he had put them in office and 
that they should therefore behave as he commanded. They might see, in his 
son's biography, how Mitchell instructed students not only in tongues and 
arts but in things of the spirit, hence students should cultivate "the one 
thing necessary" in addition to knowledge: they should eschew Pelagian 
and Arminian principles, but not rest content with mere orthodoxy. Here 
was Increase's challenge: "If you degenerate from the 'order of the gospel' 
(as well as from the 'faith of the gospel 5 ) you will justly merit the name of 
apostates and of degenerate plants." Out on the frontier, Stoddard's neigh- 
bor at Westfield, Edward Taylor (who kept most of his thoughts to him- 
self), grieved over the death of Samuel Hooker, and deciphered Mather's 
thinly veiled references: 

Apostasy wherewith thou art thus driven 
Vnto ye tents of Presbyterianism 
(Which is refined Prelacy at best) 
Will not stay long here in her tents, 6f rest, 
But o're this Bridge will carry thee a$ace 
Into ye Realm of Prelates arch, ye flace 
Where open Sinners vile vnmaskt indeed 
Are Welcom Guests (tf they can say ye Creed) 
Vnto Christs Table. 

But neither Taylor's laments nor Mather's innuendoes had any effect on 
Pope Stoddard; one by one the towns of the Valley fell into line behind 
him, and as the fatal year of 1700 approached which loomed portentously 
in the Mathers 3 Chiliastic calculations his kingdom had become so firmly 
consolidated that he could take the field in open warfare. 

After Ecclesiastes events moved, as they were bound to, very fast. In- 
crease essayed charter after charter, while the patriot party forced residence 
upon him. He, Cotton, and six other ministers put through a bill in July 
1699 which declared that none should be chosen to the Presidency or to 
the Corporation but those who declared their adherence to the principles 
of the founders. Lord Bellomont, supposing this provision directed against 
the Church of England, negated it; in his ignorance about New England 
factions, he did not comprehend that the real target was the Brattles, though 
he might have caught on had he noted that the Treasurer (Thomas Brattle) 
was excluded from the Corporation. By an adroit maneuver, wherein we 
detect the fine hand of Elisha Cooke, a temporary settlement was drawn 
up that left out the Brattles, but with it was coupled a request to Bellomont 
that he, and not Mather, obtain the King's consent. Mather's last hope 
being gone of ever again appearing at Whitehall as ambassador from this 
cave of the winds, he could do nothing but receive and, with the worst 
grace in the world, obey a peremptory order that he go to Cambridge. 

John Leverett and the two Brattles were not the sort of men to sit idly 


by and let themselves be insulted. While Increase took the drowning of 
two students in the Charles to be a sign that ere long there might be no 
College at all, while he expanded his fears to the limits of creation and 
cried that in the glorious times promised to the church, "New England 
will be the wofullest place m all America, as some other parts of die World 
once famous for Religion, are now the dolefullest on the Earth, perfect 
Emblems and Pictures of Hell," while he made oblique references in simi- 
lar rhetorical profusion to Stoddard, while he even achieved the distinction 
of informing the Anglican Bellomont that mortal disease fell upon the 
Corinthians because they approached the Table "after an unprepared man- 
ner" while Increase thus wailed, the Brattles and Leverett met in January 
1698 with the merchant John Mico and a few men of like-minded "Cath- 
olic" spirit (and of substance), and decided to found a church after their 
own instead of the founders' notions. Thomas Brattle contributed the land; 
upon further consultation the group unanimously agreed that the ideal 
choice for a minister would be Leverett's favorite student, the slender, deli- 
cate-voiced Benjamin Colman, who all this time had been imbibing the 
refinements of the Catholic temper in England. They also suggested that, 
since the plot deliberately contemplated "innovations," Colman might avoid 
trouble in Mather's Boston were he to secure ordination in London rather 
than face rejection by the local clergy. It was dead against a fundamental 
tenet of New England that a minister should be ordained by any other 
agency than his own congregation, but since Increase had become such a 
public advocate of the United Brethren, how could he object to an ordina- 
tion administered by his friends the Presbyterians? On August 4, 1699, 
Colman was thus consecrated, and reached Boston on November 1. In a 
few days, the society published a Manifesto frankly declaring their inten- 
tions; the Matherian lions had been bearded in their own den. 

It has become a cliche of historians that the innovations of the Brattle 
Street Church were not, after all, very radical, and that its importance in 
"liberalizing" the situation is easily exaggerated. This is true if we think 
ahead twenty or thirty years, in the course of which this church became an 
accepted member of the community, while its practices were silently imi- 
tated by others. In 1699 its proposals naturally seemed more momentous, 
not that they were in themselves so exceedingly sensational, but that when 
they were advanced, the black cloud of Stoddard was piling up on the 
horizon and Increase was being fought to a standstill at Harvard. This 
concatenation of events, especially when seen through Chiliastic eyes, could 
mean nothing less than an explosion into fragments of the once proudly 
unified New England society; it could foretend nothing less than that 
America was about to become hell on earth. 

We approve and subscribe, said the Manifesto, The Westminster Con- 
fession; this was a disarming but honest statement, and there is no evidence 
that any of the Brattle Church promoters, although hospitable to latitudi- 
narian writers and especially devoted to Archbishop Tfllotson, ever enter- 


tained a single doctrinal dissent from the established creed. By no admission 
of their own although William Brattle championed Descartes did they 
ever become "Arminian"; and Colman was never to exhibit the slightest 
sign of being anything but a faithful Calvimst. Secondly, they spiked In- 
crease Mather's guns by their stated intent to practice the true worship of 
God "conformably to the known practice of many of the Churches of the 
United Brethren in London." (Stoddard might have chuckled at this!) 
Then they announced their revolution* portions of Scripture would be read 
by the minister at his discretion, with or without comment (thus permitting 
what the Mathers called "dumb reading," which they considered Popish) ; 
baptism could not be refused "to any child," and, the administration being 
a ministerial act, all decisions would be left to Colman ; "visible Sanctity" 
would be sufficient qualification for the Lord's Supper, and public relations 
could be dispensed with at the wish of the candidate; the pastor alone need 
examine him, silence of the brethren giving consent; the choice of min- 
ister was to be by election of the whole congregation, that is, by every 
baptized adult who contributed to the maintenance and not by communi- 
cants alone. A church should be founded upon mutual agreement, the 
Manifesto conceded, but it added insult to injury by deducing this necessity, 
not from Scripture or the first principles of New England, but from "the 
Law of Nature." This was a palpable hit, because in May Cotton Mather 
had mobilized the Cambridge Association to declare itself on Thirty Im- 
portant Cases then bothering the country (such as usury, cards, dice, drink- 
ing healths), and had inserted some pointedly anti-Stoddardian decisions, 
such as that the church covenant is of divine inspiration even though, the 
Association added, it is also evident from "the Light of Nature." Taking a 
leaf from the Association's book, the undertakers of Brattle Street cheerfully 
declared themselves in favor of brotherly communion among the churches, 
and gracefully invited members of all other societies to communicate in 
Brattle Street as frequently as they wished! 

Persons who estimate social complexity by, let us say, the example of a 
modern American Congress, with its factions and shifting alliances, would 
regard New England in 1700, could they behold it, as a haven of simplicity. 
These things are relative: if you started, as did New Englanders, from such 
a conception of unity as prevailed under the old charter (a period enhanced 
by the jeremiads into a veritable golden age), what happened between 1698 
and 1701 would seem a convergence of devilish and disruptive forces be- 
yond the ability of man to subdue. But the design in this carpet should be 
instructive to a student of American culture: it consists in the fact that dur- 
ing these years the society experienced simultaneously four separate crises, 
and that, though there are connections between the different developments, 
the one characteristic all had in common was a designation of the Mathers 
and the Cambridge Association as the foes of progress. 

Even an abbreviated chronological sketch gives a sense of the rapidity 
with which blows were struck. In June 1698, just as the Council first re- 


jected Increase's request that he go abroad, Cotton learned, through his 
spies, that "a sort of Saducee m this Town" had sent for publication to 
England a book full "of invented and notorious Lies" about the role of the 
Mathers in the witchcraft affair. "And now," said Cotton to himself, "I 
thought it, high Time for mee to look about mee." In July, the Mathers 
entered the lists to prevent the ordination of Simon Bradstreet at Charles- 
town because he had indicated adherence to Stoddard and William Brattle 
by calling the church covenant a human invention. For the first months of 
1699, the situation simmered: no news of Calefs manuscript from London, 
no move from Stoddard, only rumors about a conspiracy in Brattle Street, 
while the Mathers' faction concentrated upon persuading Bellomont to 
accept their version of Harvard's charter. Within a month or two after 
Bellomont refused them, the Manifesto was out. 

John Higginson, now the oldest minister in the colonies, was a son of the 
founder of Salem; Nicholas Noyes, despite his error at Salem, was almost 
as old and as much revered. In his exaltation of ancestors, Increase put a 
special halo around septuagenarians, and there can be no doubt that either 
he or Cotton persuaded these two to address, in December 1699, a letter 
to the "Manifesto Church" (as it was already called), expressing their 
shock and horror at its arrogant action, at the opening of the gates to 
promiscuous baptism, and above all at its advancing no other sanction for 
covenantal duties "besides the dictates of the law of nature." As for election 
of ministers by the baptized congregation, that surely will lead to chaos: 
"the females are certainly more than the males, and consequently the choice 
of ministers is put into their hands." Should this example be followed, every 
church in the land will be surrendered into the hands of non-communicants 
who, Higginson and Noyes frankly admitted, are a majority! They ac- 
cused the organizers of betraying not only the first principles of New Eng- 
land but also The Heads of Agreement. 

Throughout this December, Increase Mather stood haughtily aloof; on 
the ninth, Samuel Sewall, who two years before had chastened himself by 
confessing the shame of witchcraft and who, although worried about Stod- 
dard, did not need to wring his hands over Calef, received a visit from 
Colman and expostulated with him on the effrontery of certain expressions 
in the Manifesto. Sewall scored what he considered a hit by telling Colman 
that "Philomela" (the pen name of Colman's English enamorata) would 
have found out gender words "at which he smil'd." Sewall pressed upon 
Colman everything to which he objected and still more what he feared 
might follow; but to SewaU's eternal glory let it be recorded that as Col- 
man was leaving, he brought himself to say: "if God should please by them 
to hold forth any Light that had not been seen or entertain'd before: I 
should be so far from envying it, that I would rejoice in it: which he was 
much affected with." 

In areas where conscience was less refined, in those quarters which for 
long had served as targets of denunciation without having a chance to reply, 


a certain exultation sprang up over this conflict among the pundits, and 
upon the very door of the new building was found one morning a piece of 
verse which, full as it is of merely topical puns, conveys unmistakably the 
idea that some elements in the community found the whole solemn to-do 
highly comic: 

Relations are Rattle with Brattle and Brattle, 

Lord Bro'r mayn't command^ 
But Mather and Mather had rather and rather 

The good old way should stand. 
Saints Cotton and Hooker, Oh look down and look here 

Where's Platfotm, Way and Keys? .... 
Our Merchants cum Mico do rtand sacro vtco 

Our churches turn genteel, 
Our Parsons grow trim and trig with Wealth, Wine and Wig 

And their heads are covered with meal. 

Not that this is great satirical verse but the immense fact is that it was 
satirical at all. Five of the first "twenty-six male communicants of Brattle 
Street were men of wealth among them (let us remember his name) 
Thomas Banister. 

Cotton Mather thought of the organizers as "Head-Strong Men . . . 
full of malignity to the Holy Wayes of our Churches." I suppose that as 
great a piece of dishonesty as any in his Diary is his attempt to consider them 
apart from Stoddard. On December 28, Increase and James Allen (of the 
First Church) addressed to "Mr. Colman" a nasty letter, telling him that 
would he lay aside the Manifesto, they might consider assisting in his instal- 
lation, but otherwise they would not become guilty of condoning his "ir- 
regularities." Cotton Mather takes all the credit for bringing his father 
around, but the evidence (which is fragmentary) suggests that Stoughton 
and Sewall persuaded Wfllard, Danforth, and others of the local clergy 
that they should agree, so that ultimately both Mathers were obliged to 
come along. The forms of Christian fellowship were observed on January 
31, 1700: Increase preached and Cotton prayed; Colman was installed, 
and peace might have been realized if only there had not also been Har- 
vard College, Stoddard, and Robert Calef. 

As the spring wore on, two facts emerged: Elisha Cooke was perfecting 
his design to prevent Increase's mission to Europe, and Solomon Stoddard 
had definitely completed a manuscript which he was sending to London. 
The mainspring of Increase's action was fear of Stoddard, but there was no 
way he could move without breaking the truce established in Brattle Street. 
He characteristically took all challenges in stride, and in March 1700 pub- 
lished The Order of the GosfeL It was on the streets, said Cotton Mather, 
just before copies reached Boston of Stoddard's The Doctrine of Instituted 
Churches, and so could be said to have "anticipated it, with an Answer." 
But in Brattle Street, where it was politic to pretend that Stoddard did not 
exist, Mather's publication could be interpreted only as a stab in the back. 


On July 4 (premonitory date' ) Solomon Stoddard was in Boston on his 
annual visit, his book already circulating and Increase's anticipatory reply 
feeding the flames of Brattle Street's anger. He appeared before "a very 
great Assembly of Ministers," and Cotton Mather attacked him in the man- 
ner of a Cicero arraigning Catiline: "Among all the Attempts against the 
State of our Churches," he declaimed, "I know none more open, more dar- 
ing or more explicit." Turning to the elders, "I beseech you Syrs, what you 
would be at! Your Attempts only furnish a profane Generation of People in 
the Countrey, with Cavils against the Churches . . . You cannot rationally 
imagine to attain any further Ends, but only to throw all into Confusion 
and Contention." There were some, he hinted, who were prepared to de- 
fend these positions did he mean Colman? but now that the master- 
traitor has appeared, they hold back: "for their Sake, Syrs, I do here make 
him an Offer of a Disputation; I say, I do offer him Disputation, when 
and where he shall please to appoint it." The insolent Pope scorned to de- 
bate with him whom the Quakers were already calling "the Colledge-Boy 
of New England," and the Mathers betook themselves, as of old, to the 

Six days later, the General Court demanded that Increase go to Harvard 
or resign, and he, still smarting from Stoddard's contempt, could not sur- 
render the College. He went to Cambridge, hated every moment, com- 
plained that the place was unhealthy, but stuck it out until October. Mean- 
while, Cotton was, as usual or more than usually busy: he picked up 
an almost forgotten treatise by an obscure Presbyterian member of the 
United Brethren, John Quick's The Young Man's Claim unto the Sacra- 
ment of the Lord > s Suffer, which seemed to call, on Presbyterian grounds, 
for more of a qualification to admission than Stoddard any longer demanded, 
and in September published it with a preface which he and his father jointly 
wrote, but more importantly with an endorsement by old John Higginson 
and by the eighty-year-old William Hubbard, who back in 1676 had been 
Increase's major opponent. It was a calculated part of Cotton's tactics to 
turn back upon those "who most unjustly call themselves Presbyterians" 
the charge that they violated the standards of the United Brethren; where- 
fore they could be accused, without any sacrifice of the principle of accom- 
modation, of betraying the witness "of many elderly Ministers, in the 
County of Essex." 

At that moment, not only were hundreds of Stoddard's The Doctrine 
of Instituted Churches being sold (there was no authority any longer to 
prevent the sale), but the book was being reprinted. Worse soon followed: 
in November, cc a Time of much Affliction in the Town, by malignant 
Colds, and Coughs," Cotton received news that Robert Calefs More Won- 
ders of the Invisible World: Or, The Wonders of the Invisible World, 
Disflay'd in Five Parts ("wherein I am the cheef Butt of his Malice") 
had been printed in London and that shipments were on the way. Even 
as these were being unloaded, the town was also flooded with a forty-page 


pamphlet, printed by William Bradford in New York, entitled Gospel 
Order Revived, being an Answer to a Book Lately set forth by the Rev- 
erend Increase Mather, which was Brattle Street's reply to The Order of 
the Gospel, bearing an advertisement that, because the press in Boston stood 
in such awe of the tyrannical Increase, this piece of liberal journalism had 
to be published in New York. 

The chief Boston printer, Bartholomew Green, retorted that he would 
have published the book if only the author had disclosed himself; he had 
refused, not out of awe of Increase Mather, but out of business scruples. 
This was a left-handed sort of defense, but Cotton made what he could out 
of it, and endorsed Green's statement with further references to "the Pro- 
fane Scoffs and Scurrilities" in which the Catholic spirit indulged. "First 
Calf's Book, and then Coleman's," he grieved, "do sett the People in a 
mighty Ferment. All the Adversaries of the Churches lay their Heads 
together, as if by Blasting of us, they hoped utterly to blow up all." 

Years later, Increase still harbored rancor because The Order of the 
Gospel was "received in New-England, but not in England, with Scoffs 
and Railery instead of a Solid Answer by Innovators," He was so involved 
with Harvard College, to which he was forced to return in February 1701, 
that he left Cotton to take on both foes at once: against what he supposed 
was Colman's pamphlet Cotton himself wrote and published (anonymously) 
A Collection of Some of the Many Offensive Matters, Contained in a 
Pamphlet, Entitled The Order of the Gospel Revived, while seven faithful 
members of his Church undertook, with his supervision and with a prefa- 
tory letter by him, to answer Calef in Some Few Remarks upon A Scandal- 
ous Book. In the midst of these efforts, he also compressed the Matherian 
position into a single sheet of paper, and published The Old Principles of 
New England. 

By June 30, Increase could stand Cambridge no longer; on September 
6, by a resolution of the General Court, he was discharged from the Presi- 
dency of Harvard, and Samuel Willard, to the fury of the Mathers, ac- 
cepted the direction of the College under the title of Vice-President (which 
relieved him of the residential requirement) . Stoddard went on conquering 
the Valley; Calef 's book signified that anticlericalism was henceforth a 
factor in the society; and Benjamin Colman, his innovations secure, was 
proving by his eloquence and ease of manner that a new epoch had 
opened in pulpit oratory. Increase was out of Harvard College, while Cot- 
ton turned his irrepressible energies toward setting up a rival institution 
that should forever be kept out of the hands of such as the Brattles and 
Leverett: thus he became the chief begetter of Yale. In general, the cul- 
ture of the region remained homogeneous, the people preponderantly of 
one stock, hard-working and Protestant; but the intellectual solidarity was 
gone, and now divisions of opinion represented not mere factional strife 
but fundamental cleavages. 

In October, Sewall, learning that an English official had been appointed 


Judge of Admiralty, in one sentence wrote the conclusion to this pathetic 
chapter: "Thus a considerable part of Executive Authority is now gone out 
of the hands of New England men." No such brevity was to be expected 
from Increase Mather, who on November 14 gave tongue to a jeremiad-to- 
end-all-jeremiads, appropriately entitled Ichabod. The glory had utterly 
departed: there was "Pompous and Superstitious" worship; unqualified 
persons were admitted to the Supper, and the College had become "a Semi- 
nary for Degenerate Plants." On the next May 27 3 Joseph Dudley was 
already appointed Governor, but was still on the seas; the General Court 
invited Increase (it was the least they could do for him) to give his fourth 
and, as it proved, last election sermon. He begged Dudley to let bygones 
be bygones, ran through his jeremiad once more, and published the text 
along with a sermon he had given at a Thursday lecture, defiantly called 
The Righteous Man a Blessing, in which he in effect washed his hands of 
further responsibility for New England: he had other work to do, he was 
getting old, and "the ill treatment I have received from those, from whom 
I had reason to expect better, have discouraged me from being any more 
concerned on such Occasions." 

In 1703 the Brattles were reinstated on the Harvard Corporation 
(Sewall says that Cotton Mather, by staying away, simply "abdicated"), 
and the General Court, observing the custom of inviting foes to speak in 
alternate years, called upon Stoddard. The heart of modern man can 
hardly apprehend the glee with which this Puritan must have pronounced: 

Many men have bad Principles respecting the Worship of God; some allow 
too much to the authority of men: and some allow too much to the judgments of 
men; as if they were in their Nonage or Dotage, that they don't know to chuse 
the good and refuse the evil . . . There are many ways whereby persons come 
to be ill Principled . . . some by being too tenacious of old Traditions. 

Stoddard may well have taken a wry satisfaction in twisting the knife in 
the wound, because the Mathers recoiling from the quadruple defeat of 
witchcraft, Harvard College, Brattle Street, and Northampton had so 
lost their bearings as to turn, in their hour of need, to the most despised 
of their enemies: they not only connived at, they were actively instrumen- 
tal in securing the selection of Joseph Dudley, in the fond hope that by 
controlling him they might yet win back the College and the power. 
Within ten years of the diplomatic triumph by which Increase Mather 
had apparently rescued the system and secured its future, to this miserable 
expedient had these champions of the pure and unified <c Order of the 
Gospel" been reduced. 




grief of such patriotic citizens as Judge Sewall over 
the fragmentation of their culture was exceeded in 1701 only by their 
bewilderment. In January, Benjamin Wadsworth preached at the First 
Church on Mutual Love and Peace Among Christians, publishing the ser- 
mon (his second appearance in print) in the hope that it would allay the 
"uncomfortable heats & contests" arising out of Increase Mather's The 
Order of the GosfeL Wadsworth had already shown, since his ordination 
in 1696, a superlative genius for stating the obvious, a gift that was to ele- 
vate him eventually, through a series of the dullest utterances in the 
period, to the Presidency of Harvard College. He pleaded that the policy 
of toleration, to which the Mathers had ostentatiously subscribed, ought to 
be practiced among members of the same family; calling for meekness, 
forbearance, good manners, Wadsworth said that were all things really 
searched to the bottom, "we should scarce find two Christians in the whole 
world exactly of the same mind in all particulars." He ventured to pro- 
pose that the original assertion of New England the pure Biblical polity 
was actually of less importance than the fact "that we are men, rational 
Creatures of the same Species, or kind," wherefore we should be induced 
"to live peaceably and quietly." With a simplicity which, in the circum- 
stances, amounted to genius, he asked why "should any man impose his 
particular notions or opinions upon mee, or I impose mine upon him ? " 

That man is a rational creature was not a novel theorem in New Eng- 
land's theology. Puritan scholasticism assigned him that rank in the great 
chain of being, and the federal theology capitalized upon his prerogatives, 
utilizing the rules of reason and rhetoric to extract from the Bible the 
system of covenants. But Wadsworth was no longer trying to justify 
those "powers" through which the founders had arrived at their defini- 
tions of polity; instead, he was bespeaking a mood that had become wearied 
with "great contentions, shameful Strifes, grievous Divisions." No doubt, 
when compared with the dissensions that rent the fabric of English Chris- 
tendom, the internecine warfare of New England was relatively mild, but 
measured against the background of the original expectation, it seemed 
terrifying. There had not yet appeared such doctrinal divisions as those of 
Calvinist and Arminian, Antinomian and Socinian, let alone of believer 
and skeptic. So far, the disagreements were merely political or administra- 


tive, but they threatened to raise, sooner or later, fatally divisive formulae. 
In an effort to forestall further strain, Wadsworth and his friends turned 
with the instinct of born moderates to a vague conception of "Reason," 
a maneuver which they could support by citing those English theologians, 
some of them Dissenters but most of them Anglicans like Tillotson, who, 
also recoiling from a century of profitless disputation, were celebrating 
the gentle charms of reasonable forbearance. However, we must not for- 
get that the colonial version of this tendency, whatever it owed to foreign 
influence, acquired its peculiar impetus from the profound consternation 
arising out of a purely colonial predicament. 

Wadsworth's sermon of 1701 suggests that those who studied at Har- 
vard under Brattle and Leverett acquired there, under the conception of a 
"catholic" spirit, such a distaste for the regimentation of opinion as Increase 
Mather could only imperfectly share; the Mathers showed themselves no 
such catholics, and certainly did not turn the other cheek when assaulted by 
Calef in More Wonders of the Invisible World. Although Cotton insisted 
that the seven worries who signed Some Few Remarks wrote without super- 
vision by him or his father, and that similarities to his own style did not 
mean that the good citizens were incapable of original composition, still, 
of the book's seventy-one octavo pages, five are taken up by this declara- 
tion, six by a letter from Increase, twenty-five by a statement of Cotton's, 
and twenty are a lamentation, unmistakably in his manner, that worthy 
pastors should have to bear insults. Precious space is devoted to refuting 
Calef 's aspersions against the historical accuracy of The Life of Phip: 
the location in 1690 of the fleet off Quebec, and how many hits the flagship 
received. In all, only ten or twelve pages talk about witchcraft; the over-all 
effect is anything but peaceable and quiet, and there is more than a sug- 
gestion of a rage conscious of its impotence. 

Calef was a dealer in cloth and described himself as a "Merchant"; 
Cotton Mather was so bankrupt as to sneer that he was a "Weaver" 
"though he presumes to call himself a Merchant." Aside from expressing 
a holy horror that so "worthy Good man, a Scholar, and Gentleman" as 
Cotton Mather should be bespattered, or that judges should be called "the 
Unjustest, Cruellest and most Blood-thirsty men," the seven putative au- 
thors said nothing concerning witchcraft but that Cotton had been wary 
of the validity of spectral evidence as early as Memorable Providences, 
and that the ministers had spoken against it. Cotton's contribution shows 
how his conscience had been dealing with him; he had indeed written 
about the Salem court with honor, as any gentleman should: "This made 
people, who Judge of things at a Distance, to dream that I approved of all 
that was done." Devoting a weak paragraph to contending that the judges 
followed, to the best of their understanding, English and Scottish prece- 
dents, the book tried, as its main rebuttal, to call Calef a tool of Elisha 
Cooke (who, at that moment, was remorselessly compelling Increase Ma- 
ther to retreat to Cambridge). 


There is, however, one remarkable fact about More Wonders of the 
Invisible World: had the Mathers and their parishioners passed it by in 
silence, or did Cotton's journals not survive with their frenetic passages 
on it, we would have no evidence that anybody paid it the slightest atten- 
tion. By 1700 witchcraft was a dead issue. Stoughton died in 1701, ac- 
cording to legend unrepentant, but Sewall had made his retraction in 
1697; the society never gave decent recompense to the families of the 
victims, but it was on record as regretting its error. Calef had put his 
book together in 1697; three years later, when the printed text at last 
appeared, righteous citizens were striving to forget the miserable business, 
and thus managed to ignore one of the noblest, if also one of the crudest, 
expressions of the New England mind. 

In the enlightened present it is highly esteemed, and justly. For one 
thing, by printing full transcripts of the trials (how did Calef get them?) 
it shows the inadequacy of Cotton Mather's Wonders (from Calef come 
the tremendous sentences of Mary Easty; not until 1700 did the com- 
munity at large know what she had written and then did not care) . By 
publishing, without Cotton Mather's consent, the account of Mather's 
treatment of the possessed Margaret Rule (under the title "Another 
Brand Pluckt out of the Burning"), the book does confirm the sincerity 
of his efforts to keep another panic from starting, but it gratifies the in- 
stinctive suspicion of a later age that Mather's all too literal handling of 
the patient betrays a streak of pruriency. It also makes clear that in 1692 
spectral testimony was the main evidence, and states emphatically the 
charge which posterity must hold against the ministers, that they did not 
object to this procedure "in such a publick manner as the case Requires." 
(As for the "advice" of June 15, 1692, Calef points out that despite 
their cautions about specters, the ministers exhorted the court to perse- 
vere, "and thereby encouraged them to proceed in those very by Paths 
already fallen into.") The portions of More Wonders in which these 
points are made are the ones generally reprinted; but in fact, if the book 
is looked at as a whole, the crucial section, to which the Mathers did 
not even dare reply, is Part II, a bumbling but sternly intense assertion 
that in the midst of such confusion as New England had come to, the 
only salvation lay in a return, in the spirit of primitive Protestantism, to 
stark Biblical literalism. 

The cloth-merchant addressed letters to several ministers, to Cotton 
Mather, Willard, Wadsworth, and one presumably to Thomas Brattle 
(we have to take his word that the texts are accurate). They are turgid, 
repetitious, confused, but from them emerges a noble thesis: the Bible 
does indeed declare that witchcraft exists and should be punished by 
death, but nowhere enunciates explicit rules for detecting the witch; there- 
fore all learned theories concerning the nature of the sin or its evidences 
are "humane inventions" mere "traditions" of men foisted onto Scrip- 
ture, exactly on a par with the superstitions of Rome. Above all, that as- 


sumption to which all theorizers subscribed, the notion that a witch enters 
into explicit "covenant" with the Devil, is utterly without textual founda- 
tion. Here Calefs attack struck at the very roots of New England society. 
Federal theologians had accepted the idea of a witch's covenant with the 
greatest of ease because it offered them an analogy in the diabolical realm 
for their central thesis: a deed becomes punishable after recorded consent 
(as in church and in state) has been given. But Calef now declared that 
the covenant theory was unscriptural, was a heathen fantasy affixed to 
Christian truth by Papists. We shall not have completed the Reformation, 
he cried, until we cast off this last vestige of Babylon, and as long as we 
retain it, we may anticipate more such pagan outbursts as swept over 
Salem Village. 

More Wonders contains stirring statements about the laws of evidence 
which are even more worthy of respect today than when uttered. Calef 
saluted Willard, for instance, on the assumption that Willard was the 
author of Some Miscellany Observations) which had been very "service- 
able," yet he had to point out that in this work Mr. B was allowed to say 
that an accusation upon merely spectral evidence might be entertained if 
the accused were already of ill-fame. No, exclaimed Calef, "Justice knows 
no difference of Persons," and a judicial examination should not be preju- 
diced in advance because the defendant is already indicted "by the Malice 
of 111 Neighbours." We are tempted to applaud Calef as a pioneer prophet 
of the great principle that no man is guilty until proved so, and to let our 
praise of him rest on this ground; however, closer inspection indicates 
that he came to his conclusion not out of a background of liberal juris- 
prudence but out of the jeremiads' own analyses of hypocrisy. Since, ac- 
cording to the official confessions, the land is rife with fraud, then open 
and dissolute sinners, convicted fornicators and disreputable tavern- 
haunters would be the last in the community to engage in secret trans- 
actions with Satan, whereas the "more Cunning, or more seeming Reli- 
gious" would be most likely to yield, because witchcraft depends, as does 
hypocrisy, upon "Invisible Evidence." 

There lay Calefs real contention, there he reinforced Stoddard and the 
Manifesto: the orthodox still insisted that the essence of witchcraft (even 
after they learned caution about spectral evidence) must of necessity be 
the supposed covenant between witch and Devil. Yes, said Calef, witches 
undoubtedly exist, but as for this covenant, there is no authority for it in 
Scripture. He may not quite have declared it, but the implication arises 
from every paragraph of his flamboyant letters: if there is no warrant for 
this sort of covenant, is there any for the other kinds? 

Evidently Cotton Mather sent a letter to Calef, but did not allow him 
to make a copy, in which he tried to expound another possible mechanism 
of witchcraft: perhaps witches utilize the substance lately discovered by 
Henry More and the Cambridge Platonists, "the Plastick Spirit of the 
World." He also sent him Richard Baxter's Certmnty of the World of 


Sprits, telling him it was an "ungainsayable Book." Replying that "I 
know no ungainsayable Book, but the Bible," Calef insisted that nowhere 
in the Bible was there any such thing as a plastic spirit, and that Mather 
was overlaying the Word of God with absurdities exactly as when using 
the covenant delusion. Calef's point was not that witchcraft is a super- 
stition, but that in dealing with it the New England orthodoxy had played 
fast and loose with holy writ. If they believed what they professed, they 
should stock to the limits of the Word and not suppose themselves "under 
a necessity of taking up with the Sentiments of such Men or Places that 
are thought worthy to give rules to detect them by." 

The stalwarts of the North Church were so ill-advised, in Some Few 
Remarks, as to congratulate the booksellers that, being acquainted with the 
integrity of the Mathers, they would not "admit of any of those Libels 
to be vended in their Shops." This sentence came abroad at the very mo- 
ment Gospel Order Revised was accusing Increase Mather of censorship. 
The threat of More Wonders was not that it fomented a reaction against 
orthodoxy's management of the witchcraft trials, for that had already 
become general "Who is it," the book rhetorically asked, "that now sees 
not through it?" but that Calef brought into serious question the whole 
apparatus of logical and rhetorical interpretation out of which New Eng- 
land had wrought its peculiar system. Calef was a Protestant, but no lib- 
eral; he went to his Bible with open eyes, and therefore declared that 
witch covenants are not to be found in the text: 

If the law of God be perfect, and exceeding broad, as being given forth by the 
Omniscient Law-giver; it is exceeding high Presumption and arrogance, and 
highly destructive to the lives of Innocents, for any to pretend to give another, 
and a pretended better description of a crime made thereby Capital, with new 
rules to try such offenders by. 

If this literalism were to prevail, what then would become of the com- 
plex machinery of interlocking covenants the Covenant of Redemption, 
the Covenant of Grace, the church covenant, the national covenant, the 
Half-Way Covenant, the covenant of renewal, indeed, of the jeremiad 
itself? What verses of Scripture could then be marshaled against the devi- 
ations of Brattle Street or the still more destructive heresies of Solomon 
Stoddard? No wonder, therefore, that in replying to Calef the Mathers 
frittered away their ammunition on minor points, for they could not so 
much as mention the basic challenge. No wonder that they tried to divert 
attention by smearing him as a hireling of Elisha Cooke. 

The great ecclesiastical discourses of the founders Richard Mather's, 
John Cotton's, and above all Hooker's set the system within a vast 
metaphysical, or rather cosmological, frame. Increase Mather's The Order 
of the Gospel reduces their immense conception to 144 octavo pages, to 
seventeen gnarled theses all directed specifically against Colman and Stod- 
dard. Crying that apostasy from the original constitution would in New 


England "be a greater Sin and Provocation to Christ, then in any Place 
in the whole world," he reviewed the generations: the first were gone, the 
second (his own) "are now in years," and of the third, while some are 
blessings, "many of them are not so." Certain "Young Divines" regard 
the sacrosanct practices of New England as "Novelty and Singularity." 
"Is there no one that will stand up for the Churches of Christ?" With 
a pointed prayer that the tutors at Harvard might remain faithful "and 
not Hanker after new and loose wayes," Mather's book so closely iden- 
tifies the covenant theology and the jeremiad with his own faction that 
a defeat for him is bound to mean the destruction of the land. "As yet," 
he said, "the Declension is not gone so far but a Stop may be put there- 
unto." But to put a stop to it, if Mather's terms were to be accepted, 
would mean the suppression of Calef, the total submission of Colman and 
Stoddard, and the retention of Increase Mather in the presidential chair 
at Harvard. 

Mather's dogged contention, throughout his various arguments, is that 
the Congregational church covenant is plainly denved from the New 
Testament. But on every page, as in all his disputation henceforth, he 
had to recognize how embarrassing was the part he had so proudly but 
incautiously played in the United Brethren, and how disconcerting the 
publicity Cotton had given his action. He had to weaken his position by 
maintaining that Presbyterian and Congregational churches could freely 
communicate, that "a moderate Presbyterian" and "a solid Congregational 
man" differ "in so few and small things" that there is no reason for them 
to quarrel-, yet all this while, he was reviling Colman and Stoddard as 
apostates because they made a few gestures in a Presbyterian direction! 
Increase could do nothing but insist that in London Congregationalism 
might be compatible with Presbyterianism, but in New England the slight- 
est modification of the church covenant was treason deserving the utmost 
vengeance of an outraged God. 

He knew that not even he could any longer read the New Testament 
with the sublime certitude of the founders. They had had no difficulty 
in finding the covenant among the verses of the Apostles; but he, having 
listened to more critical examinations, was obliged to perceive that many 
of the proof-texts were, to say the least, ambiguous. He resorted for ex- 
planation to historical considerations: in the first century the very word 
covenant was obnoxious to the Roman authorities; hence the Disciples 
tactfully avoided using it, "but Established the Thing by Similitudes evi- 
dently implying it." The logic of Ramus and the rhetoric of Talon had 
enabled us to unscramble the apostolic anagrams. But was this not after 
all an admission that the covenant system rested not upon the Bible itself 
but upon a peculiar interpretation? And had not William Brattle hinted, 
when he introduced Cartesian techniques at Harvard, that the old logic 
and rhetoric were inadequate? Had not Colman acquired in England a 
prose style more attractive and more comprehensible than that of the found- 


ers by studying models who owed nothing to Talon? Suppose then that 
the Word were read, not in the light of Ramus, but in the more serene 
light of an enlarged Catholic spirit? Would it then yield up the idea of 
a church covenant any more surely than, according to Calef, it supplied 
the notion of a witch's covenant? 

Because liberal historians have exaggerated the importance of Brattle 
Street, we must insist that the only really revolutionary proposition in 
Gospel Order Revived is its assertion that the doctrine of church cove- 
nant "is a stranger to Scripture, and has no foundation in the Word of 
God." Covenants may be used; a people may, if they wish, bind them- 
selves to walk in the ways of the Lord ("This is the Covenant we own, 
and which we renew every time we attend the publick Worship of God") ; 
they may covenant to reform their manners or to pay their pastor, but all 
such conventions come from the order of nature, not from the Bible, and 
are merely social or political conveniences. Brattle Street denied that the 
New Testament prescribes any such covenant as permits a minority of 
the society, "exclusive of the rest," to bring a church into being, or is so 
fundamental to the life of the society that those who scruple it should on 
that account be excluded. Once this premise was demolished, certain ra- 
tional or natural consequences automatically followed: personal relations 
became superfluous, and the election of officers was seen properly to per- 
tain to the whole number of financial supporters. 

Gradually it became evident that the innovations of Brattle Street did 
not mean in practice marked differences from ordinary behavior. What is 
most important about the enterprise is the new tone it imparted to colonial 
controversy. Gosfel Order Revived noted with amusement that Increase 
Mather filled up his pages, in the scholastic manner, with an array of 
authorities (although omitting those who did not support him); instead 
of mobilizing an opposing battery of citations, the book merely quipped, 
"This is a good way to amuse the Reader, and to cloud his mind, and to 
terrific him, by mustering a legion of inartificial Arguments." The fact 
that in 1700 opponents of Increase Mather could toss back at him a term 
out of the Ramist logic, with the clear implication that the once vital dis- 
tinction between real and secondary persuasions served now only to make 
fun of him, indicates the true nature of this intellectual revolution. His- 
torically, this is a stupendous enough achievement, and needs no fur- 
ther enhancement. 

Within these definite limits, the preface to Cos-pel Order Revived de- 
serves a place in the unfolding of the American mind. Respectful of In- 
crease Mather's reputation, it quietly asserts "that we are not over-awed 
by any Names," that the consciences of Christians will not be "imposed 
on by Men or Their Traditions," and inaugurates a new era by saying, 
"It appears very strange that those who fled from an Act of Uniformity, 
should presently impose on themselves, on their Neighbours, and entail the 
Mischief on their Posterity." Here, for the first time, a group singled out 


to be the object of pontifical denunciation had the courage and the pres- 
tige to rebut the accusation, to fling back the boast that instead of declin- 
ing they were progressing: "Our dissent from any of them is so far from 
a going back from any Gospel Truth or Order, that it is rather a making 
progress, and advancing the Evangelical Discipline." 

The gentlemen of Brattle Street had learned to make such a declara- 
tion out of New England's experience. They were accustomed to the dis- 
tinction between external and internal covenants, but the effort to keep 
the two in alignment had become, in their eyes, futile. They knew by 
heart the rationale of hypocrisy; above all, they had seen the Half- Way 
Covenant expand, through renewals, into a membership that bore no rela- 
tion to the original principle of exclusion. They reminded Increase Mather 
that m the 1660 s s enlargement of baptism had been cried upon as declen- 
sion, "but the present generation feels the happy effect of it, and rising up 
at the Reformers names, do call them blessed." Also they called his atten- 
tion to the fact that in London he was "esteemed more a Presbyterian 
than a Congregational man." If only he would show in Boston the spirit 
he had there exhibited, "we should be his easie Proselites too." Because 
at home he acted the tyrant, Brattle Street had to question his motives, 
and to answer not out of logic but out of realistic appraisal: "It would but 
cause us to suspect (what abundance of people have long obstinately be- 
lieved) that the contest for his part is more for Lordship and Dominion 
than for Truth." 

The chief undertakers at Brattle Street, we have noted, were men of 
wealth, such as Mico, Thomas Brattle, and Banister. It had not been a 
problem for business men like Anthony Stoddard or John Hull to com- 
bine profits with search of soul, or to humble themselves by public pro- 
fession before the congregation; but by the time the Half-Way Covenant 
had obscured the distinction between profession and membership, men of 
this sort would no longer subject themselves to the indignity of a pub- 
he relation of their sins. Too many of what nowadays passed for profes- 
sions seemed to their refined taste "insipid, senseless things." Nor would 
they, simply because they scorned "to make a quaint Speech in the Church," 
be prevented from taking their proper place in it; since covenants are usu- 
ally made "by the lesser part," why should the majority pay any atten- 
tion? Increase Mather admitted that the founders had based the idea of 
the covenant not only upon the Bible but also upon nature and reason; 
the moment he allowed weight to those sanctions, the merchants seized 
upon them and opened the American eighteenth century by asserting that 
therein they found no justification for exclusion: "That which pertains to 
all is not valid, if some sorts have not a consent in it." In this sense (im- 
portant it certainly is, but in this sense alone), Brattle Street made a con- 
tribution to what eventually could become democracy. 

Because all three of the Mathers' opponents had to get their books 
published outside Boston, the impression is strengthened that the Mathers 


definitely represent at this juncture the forces of reaction and repression. 
Bartholomew Green's denial that they dictated his policy was not con- 
vincing when printed along with Cotton's imprecations, nor did the latter 
reassure his foes by displaying in A Collection of Some of the Many Of- 
fensive Matters an irate temper that patently would have used suppression 
if it could. Assuming that Colman wrote Gospel Order Revived, Cotton 
lampooned "the Weakness of the Arguing, the Romantickness of the 
Phrase, and the Air of the Author in vilifying his Superiors," and de- 
clared that even "a Moral Heathen" would not, like Thomas Brattle, 
have paid for the printing. Cotton Mather's blast is pure frenzy; he does 
not argue, he simply shrieks with horror at the very suggestion that church 
covenant is not explicitly commanded in Scripture, and counters Col- 
man's adroit use of the United Brethren with the astonishing insult that 
"were this Young Pseudo Presbyterian really what he would be thought 
to be, Mr. Mather would not in the least discountenance him on account 
of Presbyterianism." He can only exclaim against "Bold Youths" who 
mock "the Aged Praesident of the Colledge," and predict that such mon- 
strosities are so near to the superlative of smfulness that the most dreadful 
of judgments must soon be upon us, possibly the end of the world itself. 

But, although these samples of Mathenan eloquence are at least pa- 
thetic where they are not comic, since we have raised the great word "de- 
mocracy," we must pause to consider another dimension of the contro- 
versy. In passing, Gosfel Order Revived did bow, although not very 
warmly, in the direction of Stoddard, and said of The Doctrine of Insti- 
tuted Churches that it was "in most parts ... a Mine of Gold, and a 
nch Treasury of right Thoughts." As far as I can make out, the two 
movements Brattle Street and Northampton were independent; Stod- 
dard wrought his revolution as early as 1677, but there is no evidence 
that Leverett and the Brattles took their cue from him, although their 
awareness of the open secret may have encouraged their own thinking. 
Certainly in 1700 Stoddard denied the existence of church covenant in 
a much more emphatic fashion than they did: "There is no Syllable in 
the Word of God, intimating any such thing," nor, he added, "neither is 
there any need of it." The consent of visible saints cannot create a church, 
because bodies corporate are made either "by Law" or "by Charter"; as 
for individuals, their covenant "is no other, then what all Christians do 
make, when they make a profession of Faith and Obedience." Congrega- 
tional theory tried to hold that a free Christian people could be bound 
together only by consent, and for decades labored to keep that principle 
alive in the pallid form of a ghostly owning of the covenant. The Ameri- 
can frontiersman was bored with these metaphysics: it is not consent, he 
said, "that binds a free People in the same Town to mutuall subjection, 
to the Government of the Town" (had he been obliged to wait for the 
people in Northampton to consent, he would have got nothing done) ; 
it is the law of the land and the absolute command of Deus Absconditus. 


If a Christian live in a Town, where there is a Church, he is immediately 
bound to joyn with that Church, and that Church is bound to him to govern 
him ... but there is no occasion that every Member should Covenant particu- 
larly with the Church . . . This Doctrine of the particular Covenant is wholly 
unscriptural, is the reason that many among us are shut out of the Church, to 
whom Church Priviledges do belong 

The last sentence is the key. Seventy years of New England had demon- 
strated that even ostensibly holy men are not upright enough, responsible 
enough, to work a democratic system. If this argument prevails, wailed 
Cotton Mather, "all the Ungodliest Wretches that call themselves Chris- 
tians, in the Town, are Church Members, even, whether they will, or 
no." Precisely, agreed Stoddard: the important thing was that they call, 
or be forced to call, themselves Christians. The neglect of "good Gov- 
ernment of all Gods people, born within the Pale of the Church," was 
bringing "these Churches to a great defection." He was tired of distin- 
guishing covenants, of attempting through jeremiad eloquence to stimu- 
late a nonexistent freedom. The remedy was not to exhort, "not to deny 
them their right at the Lords Table, but to give them that, and a good 
and strict Watch over their Lives and Manners, together with it." 

I am, of course, speculating, but the impression of Stoddard's person- 
ality is so vivid that one cannot help seeing in his doctrine the reflection of 
his surroundings; to these, rather than to any European or English influ- 
ence, must be attributed his so-called "Presbyterianism." He did indeed 
advocate a national church and centralized control; but the source of his 
conviction was the fact that in Northampton all men, and not church 
members alone, worked shoulder-to-shoulder when raising the frame of 
a house or of a church, that so they fought against Indians. The con- 
ception of a national covenant which would bind all alike, which would 
provide him with an engine for controlling a tumultuous people this was 
the only form of salvation that any longer seemed to Solomon Stoddard 
worthwhile. The simplest way of putting it in which a century of Amer- 
ican life is compressed is that for John Winthrop it had been logical 
to conceive the whole migration as in an external covenant with God, 
having adventured upon these and those ends, and yet to believe that only 
a select minority of visible saints would guarantee the majority's per- 
formance; to Stoddard, it had become apparent that the majority must 
also be bound, and that therefore "the whole must have power over the 
parts, to rectify all Mai-administrations, and to see the Covenant kept." 
He did not, like some Scottish Presbyterians, repudiate the covenant; he 
merely decided that the national covenant was enough. "What is a Na- 
tional Church but a Professing Nation jointly bound to keep Covenant 
with God?" The seeds of all the difficulties which, over two centuries, 
New Englanders were to encounter in their efforts to come to terms with 
Presbyterianism were planted by this first native-born apostle of Presby- 
terianism: he would indeed identify church and town, but only on condi- 


tion that there were someone like himself who would first harry the town 
into the church. 

Still, we should not confuse the issue of 1700 by anticipating later com- 
plications. In that year, The Doctrine of Instituted Churches stated it with 
marvelous concision: if there be no national church, then every congregation 
is absolute and independent: 

This is too Lordly a principle, it is too ambitious a thing for every small Con- 
gregation to arrogate such an uncontrolable Power, and to be accountable to none 
on Earth; this is neither a probable way for the Peace of Churches, nor for the 
safety of Church Members; appeals are admitted in all Kingdoms; and it is more 
probable that in a whole Country, persons may be found that may rectify the 
Miscarriages of particular Congregations, then that particular Congregations will 
not miscarry; this absoluteness of particular Congregations is a dignity that the 
primitive Churches did not enjoy, this is not the common Priviledge of Gospel 

How pedantic, how remote, sounds Increase Mather's The Order of the 
Gosfely with its "inartificial" arguments, alongside this frank speaking! 

For Stoddard, a few organizational consequences were obvious: synods 
of elders should oversee the calling of ministers to particular churches; 
excommunications and censures should be reviewed by boards of clerical 
supervisors: "every Man must stand to the Judgment of the National 
Synod.'* Men ordained to the office may be ministers even when not con- 
nected with a particular church (Colman had availed himself of this the- 
sis). Stoddard remained enough of a Congregationalist to insist that synods 
are not infallible, and drew upon his American experience when justify- 
ing a national church: "they that are one People, should Unite together 
in carrying on Gods Worship, and should have Power to regulate and 
govern the several parts of that Body." Satisfying himself that he had 
paid sufficient deference to the Bible by retaining the Hebraic conception 
of a nation in covenant, Stoddard shamelessly constructed the rest of his 
system out of brute fact, and called it "the Light and Law of Nature." 

Since historians have incautiously saluted Stoddard's revolt as an asser- 
tion of democracy on the grounds that it did away with restrictive mem- 
bership we should observe that by his explicit declaration the aim was 
to put dictatorial powers into the hands of ministers and elders. In every 
town, as New Engknd had long since proved, there are many not to be 
confided in: "the Minister hath Power by Virtue of his Pastoral charge, 
to see that they Learn." Or, as he succinctly expressed it in 1700 and 
was to say until his death, "The Elders are to Rule over the Church, 
and therefore not to be overruled by the Brethren." Hence the pastor 
should determine who might be admitted or excommunicated not the 
brethren. "It is not the work either of the Brethren or Ruling elders any 
-ways to intermeddle in that Affair or Limit him" ; for, as Stoddard wrote 
with a freedom which the harassed Mathers must have envied, "The 
community are not fit to judge & rule in the Church." 


Let us be clear: here was no Populist uprising. This Puritan aristo- 
crat was enraged by the leveling tendencies of the frontier 5 his reaction 
was to equate all persons in orders that they might the better be con- 
trolled by aristocrats. Matters of administration require wisdom, "but the 
Community are not men of understanding"; most of them "have not 
had the advantage of Reading & Study. Some of them are Men of very 
weak Abilities, some of them are rash, some of them are Young, hardly 
Sixteen Years of Age, some of them are Servants." It was against reason 
to suppose that Christ would entrust His government to men so "un- 
capable." Therefore Stoddard turned to the ideal of a national church; 
otherwise "every particular Congregation is absolute and independent, 
and not responsible to any higher Power." There had been too much 
liberty: America (or at least New England) cried aloud for central- 

Thus it is worth our while to listen once more to the words of Cotton 
Mather, flung in the face of Stoddard before the assembly of ministers on 
July 4, 1700: 

The Liberty of the Fraternity, in things of common Concernment, for the 
Fraternity to be Governed, not as meer Bruits or Mutes The primitive Churches, 
preserved it, for many Ages . . . Our Gentlemen do assay utterly to take away 
all manner of Liberty, from the Brethren in our Churches. Because it may be, in 
some Churches things may have been sometimes carried in a Strain too demo- 
cratical, these Gentlemen will do well to remember, who they are . . . But they 
can't speak of the People in any other Terms, than the Pharisees did of old; 
Whereas, indeed, Syrs, this People, is the Lord's Heritage. They tell us, they 
will reform our Churches. And then they tell us, it shall be, by pushing them 
from the primitive Church-State, wherein they at present are, and by plunging 
them into the Church-State, which the Romish Apostasy, after some Centuries 
had brought all into. A goodly Reformation' Syrs, tis unintelligible, tis un- 

Likewise against Brattle Street, Cotton Mather spoke most cogently when 
declaring that its reduction of all members to a passive participation made 
the condition of Christians "that of Souldiers in a Company." Not, of 
course, that m becoming tolerant the Mathers had also become democrats j 
but, hounded as they were from every quarter, they had the grace and 
the wit, in what otherwise was a confused and indefensible salient, to rally 
and to hold some of their forces on this ground: "we thought the Lord 
Jesus Christ had made them His Free men." Granted that the extreme 
of "Brownistical Anarchy" is bad, "Is not one Extream to be shunned 
without Running into another?" If credit is to be distributed and who of 
us can withhold admiration from Stoddard, or do else but welcome the 
Brattles? it should be recorded that in their desperation, while power 
was being shorn from them, the Mathers did manage to stand firm upon 
one root principle of Protestantism, that the consent of a believer is an 
essential part of belief. 


Unfortunately for these most unfortunate of men, their hands were tied 
because of Increase's hearty participation in the United Brethren. Both 
Stoddard and Colman could point out that he had already so far com- 
promised the notion of church covenant in order to meet the Presbyte- 
rians more than half way that he had no right to denounce Stoddard. The 
unhappy fact of the matter was that the Mathers were doomed to be 
thwarted in whatever event. Stoddard and Brattle Street flouted the ma- 
jority opinion of New England: but what of the autonomy of individual 
churches? Besides, there had been no synod in New England since 1679- 
80, and such associations as that of Cambridge were not Presbyteries but 
merely social gatherings. Then Stoddard proceeded to organize his area 
into the Hampshire Association, and to encourage it to act like a genuine 
Presbyterian classis; Cotton Mather was left whimpering that while the 
associations in eastern Massachusetts "do not assume unto themselves all 
the power, which many Presbyterians can allow them," still they ought 
to be equally respected because they do not invade the constitution of our 
churches "without the Advice of Neighbouring Ministers." In this sense, 
they have done nothing "(even in Print)" contrary to the order pro- 
fessed in New England; whereas his enemies, preempting the name of 
Presbyterianism, were flagrantly defying the customs of the country in a 
manner which, in any Presbyterian nation, would have been censured by 
their fellows. It was after Cotton had repeated his charge of July 4, 1700, 
in the preface to Quick's Young Man's Claim; after he and his father had 
issued another (according to their definition) "Presbyterian" tract, Thomas 
Doolittle's A Treatise Concerning the Lords Suffer; after they had prod- 
ded Higginson and Hubbard to issue a 'Testimonial to stigmatize Stod- 
dard's defection from the founders; after they had taken shots at him in 
everything they published; after Increase in Ichabod had made his last 
gesture of despair after all this, Stoddard came to Boston and delivered 
the election sermon of 1703, charmingly entitled The Way for a People 
to Live Long in the Land that God hath given them. He gracefully evaded 
any label, especially that of Presbyterianism, but he told New England 
that it had to rethink its basic propositions, and in so doing must not be 
bound by the example of the founders. Men run into great mistakes, he 
said, if their tender consciences are vitiated by false principles: those who 
judge licentiousness lawful have indeed lost the light of nature and so can- 
not distinguish between good and evil; but on the other hand, "Some run 
into the other extream, and make strict rules for themselves and others 
that God never made." 

Every month, every week, the position of the Mathers became more 
difficult." In The Order of the Gospel, Increase laid down the points on 
which there could be no yielding: examination of candidates, explicit cove- 
nant, exclusion of non-members from the election of officers, baptism upon 
some fragment of hereditary right or upon public profession. He was 
dinging to the tattered remnants of Congregationalism; but he would not 


budge from the one great standard, that "The Lord has joyned the Ex- 
hibiting Sign, and the Grace Exhibited thereby, together." Cruel as ft 
might sound, the sacrament could not be administered to any "to whom 
we cannot in charitable Judgement say, 'You are in Covenant with God/ " 
Granted that immense difficulties had developed in testing the proposition, 
one fact remained incontestable: "The Grace of God is a discernible 

Ever more frantic in the execution of his balancing act, Increase had 
to insist, in Ichabod, that to surrender these fundamentals would infringe 
both Congregational and Presbyterian tenets, that the innovators, "Yea 
and some who are not the Youngest men," have advanced notions "which 
our Presbyterian Brethren in England, & the Reformed Churches beyond 
Sea, have Condemned, & which the English Liturgy it self approveth not 
of." Hence he and his followers, while guarding the principle of consent, 
had to demonstrate that within the framework of The Heads of Agreement, 
even as Congregationalists, they could undertake measures that really 
would refute Stoddard; they had to show that they could go far enough 
toward the centralization of control to justify their allegiance to the 
United Brethren. They had to prove that they could rectify the disorders 
and insubordinations of which Stoddard complained. And by 1704 the 
compulsion was all the stronger because the civil government, under 
Joseph Dudley, would obviously be no help at all. 

On June 1 a convention of ministers was called by the Cambridge Asso- 
ciation, which issued a circular letter proposing several motions upon 
which all might easily agree (such as that pastors should be more l labo- 
rious" in their personal visits), as well as "That Associations of the Minis- 
ters in the several Parts of the Country may be strengthened." Wfllard 
was moderator, Cotton Mather, Wadsworth, Benjamin Colman, and 
twenty-three others signed the document (Increase Mather augustdy held 
aloof). On September 11, 1705, delegates from the five associations met 
"according to former agreement," and on the thirteenth issued the Pro- 

The Mathers were not the prime movers, but since the opening of their 
controversy with Stoddard they had become the chief spokesmen for the 
point of view the document articulated. One might tell the history of the 
Proposals without mentioning Stoddard; in one sense they were an at- 
tempt to settle what from the beginning had been a problem in the ecclesi- 
astical theory: the founders, basing their polity upon the Bible, declared that 
occasional synods, summoned upon particular emergencies, should exer- 
cise no other powers than those of advice and counsel, and their decisions 
should bind only those churches who accepted them. Was this an adequate 
system for maintaining uniformity? Upon this theory the Synods of 1637, 
1646-48, 1662, and 1679-80 officially operated. To be sure, their "ad- 
vices" had been supported by the civil government, but even though after 
1692 that agency could no longer play its traditional role, the theory re- 


mained intact: synods do not have compulsive power. The primary assump- 
tion had been that they would never need it because, the Word of God 
being so clear, a judicious interpretation would carry its own credentials 
and convince every society of true saints. John Cotton had taken pleas- 
ure in telling Presbyterians, "no Church hath stood out so long in main- 
taining any offence found amongst them." 

Furthermore, various practices had grown up which, to some degree, 
restrained a too free exercise of independent power, such as "consulting 
the neighboring churches" in difficult moments, until gradually the method 
crystallized into unwritten kw. It was symbolized in ordinations, when 
near-by ministers preached the sermon and gave "the right hand of fel- 
lowship." Because New England succeeded with its theoretically "con- 
sultative" synods, which in effect wrought everything Presbytenanism 
desired, Increase had been able to play down their voluntaristic charac- 
ter, to insist that Congregationalists could join the United Brethren with- 
out violation of conscience. 

Thus, in one point of view, formation of the Cambridge Association 
could be presented in 1690 as no innovation; it was simply a method for 
regularizing consultation among neighboring churches, and no voice was 
raised in protest. As other areas organized their own associations, Cotton 
Mather pointed to them as further reasons why Presbyterians and Congre- 
gationalists should come together. Since the government was a royal gov- 
ernment, even in the hands of a Phips or a Stoughton, it could not be 
called upon to punish recalcitrant churches, so that little by little, the asso- 
ciations tried to keep order by themselves. In 1698, for instance, Cotton 
Mather went with the delegates of five churches to John Wise's Chebacco 
parish, there to cut off a neighboring but disorderly church from the com- 
munion of the faithful. All this while Mather was agitating for the forma- 
tion of still more associations, assuring the people that these were not 
"Classical Combinations," that they threatened nothing against the "over- 
whelming Rights of particular Churches." He and the Cambridge Asso- 
ciation, adjudicating on Thirty Important Cases y remained clear in their 
minds that synods, not only by Scripture but by the light of nature,, might 
do no more than expound the mind of the Holy Spirit although "it is but 
reasonable that their Judgment be acknowledged as Decisive in the affairs 
for which they are Ordained." 

This much, on the surface, was orthodoxy, but already the test had 
come, and the Association had proved inadequate: Charlestown elected 
Simon Bradstreet in 1697, choosing him by a vote of the inhabitants, and 
then ordained this spokesman of the "Catholic" spirit in defiance of the 
Association (significantly, Bradstreet appears to have no connection with 
the Pr<?#0ja& of 1705). 

By 1700, those who had joined associations on the supposition that they 
thus might remain good Congregationalists even while exercising Presby- 
terial powers were hard put to it, against the jibes of Stoddard, to ex- 


plain how they slept at night. As if this were not enough, in 1699 Boston 
had its first experience with a clerical impostor: Samuel May for a while 
fooled even the Mathers, claiming to be a pious Presbyterian; he turned 
out to be a rascal, who gave himself away by delivering plagiarized ser- 
mons and launching into abuse of the regular pastors. His supporters grew 
insolent, and threw "libels' 5 into the houses of other ministers, while he, 
if Cotton is to be believed, devoted himself to the seduction of converts; 
it was only God's mercy and the exertions of the Association that kept the 
young women of Boston from being "betray'd and debauch'd into fearful 
Whoredoms." The horror was that even after the Association exposed 
him, he took refuge in the Baptist church, whence nobody could dislodge 
him. If this was the consequence of accepting toleration, then clearly it 
was time that the Congregational order either go all the way with Stod- 
dard, or prove against him that it could tighten its own screws of disci- 
pline. The laws, as Increase Mather had to confess, did not provide ade- 
quate security; realizing, as Pemberton put it, that "there is not sufficient 
provision made for the tryal of such," even "Catholic" spirits like Wads- 
worth and Colman found themselves, a few short years after the Mani- 
]esto y ready to sign the Proposals. 

There were other worries, all of them arising from obvious failures 
of the original polity or rather from the inability of that polity to func- 
tion without the active cooperation of pious magistrates. There was, for 
example, the decay of the office of lay elder. By 1694 Joshua Scottow rep- 
resented, in the language of the streets, what had happened: men of low 
degree say "they are of mean Estates, and low Capacities, their Counsel 
will not meet with acceptance, and some others might do," while the 
brethren of high degree beg off because "their occasions will not bear or 
admit of so mean an Employ as to be a Ruling Elder." In Northampton, 
Stoddard had no trouble in getting Pomeroys, Claps, and Hawleys to 
serve; but in the east, among churches founded upon covenant and upon 
consent, there were fewer and fewer Sewalls to take on the job. Sallow 
Harvard graduates found themselves in towns where they had not only 
to preach but to rule, and seldom were up to both requirements. They 
needed help, and turned in panic to the associations. 

And finally, about the year 1700, the clerical leaders commenced to 
realize those awful consequences of the new charter which their own 
propaganda had for a time concealed even from themselves: they existed 
on sufferance, thanks to the Act of Toleration; the governorship would 
certainly pass into the hands of an Anglican (Bellomont had come and 
died, but he was a portent) ; there was every reason to foresee that their 
churches would have to resist the Church of England. For that, they 
would need to be united. 

The news from London told them that even while the United Breth- 
ren were falling apart, powerful "high-flying" forces within the Estab- 
lished Church, having recovered from the Revolution of 1689, were 


regrouping for more aggressive measures not only in England but through- 
out the Empire. They marked the skillful strategy of Francis Makemie, 
who wrote from Barbados a book published in Edinburgh in 1699, copies 
of which soon reached Boston, Truths in a True Light; Makemie had 
been a gallant apostle of Presbyterianism in Maryland and Virginia, had 
met Increase Mather in London and supported him in the United Breth- 
ren, and had disputed with the Quaker, George Keith (who also had an- 
noyed New England). Truths in a True Light laid down for Dissenters 
the line which seemed, after 1689, to be most promising: they agree with 
the Church of England on all essential matters; therefore, differences 
should not be magnified, and all Protestants should stand together. On 
May 29, 1700, Cotton Mather appeared before Bellomont to deliver his 
fourth (and, as it was to prove, his last) election sermon; with Anglo- 
American relations momentarily uppermost in his mind, he forgot the 
jeremiad pattern, quietly boasted that the Protestant faith has generally 
made a nation great and rich "even in Temporals," and adduced the 
prosperity of New England (which the jeremiads had pronounced at an 
end) to prove that here the "Doctrinal Articles of the Church of England" 
were more faithfully held than anywhere in the king's dominions. To 
make sure that none should mistake, he aligned New England with the 
Presbyterian element in the United Brethren by condemning "Neonomian 
and Antinomian Errors," and assured Bellomont that there was not one 
Socinian or Arrninian among the colonial pastors. 

This sermon, entitled A Pillar of Gratitude, was, according to its sub- 
title, "A Brief Recapitulation, of the Matchless Favours, with which the 
God of Heaven hath obliged the Hearty Praises, of His New-English 
Israel"; it contended that the Church of England should therefore let 
this Israel alone. Cotton followed the effort with A Letter of Advice to 
the Churches of the Non-conformists in the English Nation, published 
in London in 1700, wherein he assured English Nonconformists that they 
were the true Church of England and that by the Toleration Act they 
had become "legal Parts" of it. They need pay no attention, therefore, 
to "that Faction, whose Religion lyes in Sainting their Martyr Charles L" 
Nevertheless, in 1701 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel 
was founded; the next year George Keith, now an ordained Anglican, 
was on a scouting expedition for the Bishop of London, and was engaging 
Increase Mather in controversy by declaring that there were six plain 
rules which, if decently observed, would bring all Dissenters back into the 
fold. In their role as advocates of the United Brethren, the Mathers had 
lengthily insisted that Christian fundamentals were few and clear, but 
still not those of Keith; whereupon this Anglican convert joined hands 
with Calef and Stoddard by asking how the New Englanders could claim 
simplicity as long as they preached the church covenant: "Thousands of 
good Christians cannot find any Warrant for it in Scripture, by the best 
Judgment of Discretion that we can make; but on the contrary, we not 


only think it superfluous but more burdensome to our Consciences" than 
all the Canons. 

And by this time, the fact was borne in upon New England that in 
England the United Brethren had failed; the extent of the demands be- 
ing made upon the Mathers' energies is shown in the summer of 1699 
when Cotton preached two sermons (published as The Everlasting Gosfel) 
expressing New England's grief over the shocks given to the Union, and 
trying to prove that there was nothing for the English Dissenters to quar- 
rel about, in which he as good as confessed that if he had to choose sides, 
his sympathies lay with the Presbyterians. 

Tn this atmosphere of confusion and distraction, knowing that they had 
to cut their way out of the web, delegates from the eastern associations 
issued on September 13, 1705, the Proposals, and officially despatched 
them to the churches on November 5. These suggestions were grouped 
under two heads: under the first, it was proposed that the association be 
given the right to intervene in local disputes, that candidates for particular 
churches undergo a "Tryal" before it, and that it be empowered to rec- 
ommend "such Persons as may be fit to be imployed amongst them." The 
second head went further : it recommended that churches within an associ- 
ated area form themselves in a "consociation" (to consist of both clerical 
and lay delegates), which in turn should erect a "standing or stated 
Council" to determine all affairs within the geographical limit. These 
were to meet at least once a year; their determinations were to be looked 
upon as final, and any church that refused to be "Reclaimed" should be 
declared no longer fit for communion. 

In Massachusetts Bay, nothing ever came of the Proposals. In 1726 
Cotton Mather ruefully remembered that they were opposed by "some 
very considerable Persons among the Ministers, as well as of the Brethren, 
who thought the Liberties of particular Churches to be in danger of being 
too much limited and infringed in them"; out of deference "to these 
Good Men," the Proposals were never pushed. We do not know to what 
lengths they might have been had Governor Dudley been favorable, but 
neither he nor the legislature (too much engrossed in disputing with him 
about his salary or his conduct of the war) could be enlisted. There was 
no power in the colony that would make Simon Bradstreet or John Wise 
bow to a consociation. Cotton Mather should have known better; on 
July 4, 1700, he himself told Stoddard that the decisions of synods, even 
if any could be assembled, would signify nothing "except they have 
a civil Magistrate, that will make them cutt. Whereas they are not yett pro- 
vided of a Magistrate, that will be their Tool, no, nor ever will be." In the 
Valley, Stoddard could look with pity upon the Proposals as a pathetic 
attempt to realize, under another name, his own conceptions; he pragmati- 
cally devoted himself, through the sheer force of personality, to making 
the Hampshire Association act, even without magisterial assistance, as 
though it were a full-fledged consociation. 


One cannot say how much the influence of Stoddard worked upon 
Connecticut, but it is fair to surmise that the western regions felt his 
weight. While arguing against him in 1700, while declaring that even 
English Presbyterians would not support him, Cotton Mather cited Ruther- 
ford, and barbed his remark with, "to whom, we hope, you our Brethren 
in the Colony of Connecticut, that Exceed all the rest of New-England, 
for proclaiming your Indisposition to the Order wherein Your Churches 
have so long flourished, will above others attend." Clearly he associated 
the movement in Connecticut with Stoddard, but after the Proposals (one 
fascinating aspect of the Mathers' story is how wantonly they threw away 
their advantages) he was powerless to object if that colony acted upon 
them. In 1700 Stoddard based his "Presbyterian" doctrines frankly 
upon the de facto power of self-government; a conquered country, he 
said, does not choose its rulers, neither does one under hereditary con- 
trol, but otherwise, "All the Power that Men have over a free People is 
by their own consent." Thanks to the inefficiency of the Board of Trade, 
Connecticut still had power over itself; it was also fully conscious of the 
reasons why the Massachusetts associations had launched their Proposals. 
In that colony there were even more dissensions, splintered churches, and 
insubordinations than Governor Gurden Saltonstall, translated from his 
New London pulpit to Hartford in 1707, liked to contemplate. Hence 
the legislature itself called for a synod, which met at Saybrook in Sep- 
tember 1708 (eight of the twelve delegates being members of the new 
college), and there drew up The Saybrook Platform, which, although bor- 
rowing much of its language from the Proposals, institutionalized the 
ecclesiastical theories of Solomon Stoddard. 

The Saybrook Platform organized the ministers of each county into 
associations and their churches into consociations; it ordered the councils 
to use the authority of these bodies to "see their Determinations or judg- 
ments duly Executed." The only sanction was the sentence of non-com- 
munion, but in Connecticut that would have a force infinitely greater than 
in Massachusetts. Although there was opposition to the Platform, though 
it did not bring absolute peace to the churches, still it was a formidable 
instrument for enforcing uniformity and obedience. The church remained, 
but the effective unit of communal life became the "Council of the Con- 
sociated Churches of the Circuit." This institution might or might not be 
found in the Bible; the founders certainly had not discovered it there in 
anything like the form set up by Connecticut; but its real source was neither 
Scripture nor logic: it sprang from the proved necessity for resisting those 
forces of disintegration which a purely Biblical polity carelessly encouraged. 

The result of the Saybrook Synod was published at public expense in 
1710, and 2,000 copies were distributed. The strategy of this volume is 
interesting: commencing with the sort of praise for the Toleration Act 
which had now become standard in New England, it reprinted the Savoy 
Confession of Faith and The Heads of Agreement* Thus proclaiming that 


Connecticut, being "fully grounded upon the Holy Scripture," was a full 
participant in the ecumenical movement of English Dissent, the Platform 
could then insist that it was only "a more Explicate asserting the Rules of 
Government sufficiently provided in the Holy Word," even though ac- 
knowledging, in the same sentence, the actual motives: these rules were 
found necessary "for the healing of our Wounds," since "our difficulties 
have been of a long time troublesome." It was doubtless hoped that no 
one would notice the omission in both The Heads of Agreement and in 
the text itself of any mention of church covenant. Although the preface 
called upon the people to believe the Concession with more than "an Hu- 
mane Faith," there was no emphasis whatsoever upon regenerate mem- 
bership; the whole concern was for the efficiency of an administrative 

For the future of America, this development has importance, because 
out of the Valley and out of Connecticut came the migration into New 
Jersey, and with it New England's contribution to the Presbyterian Church 
and to the College of New Jersey. Jonathan Dickinson is the embodiment 
of this penetration: born at Hatfield in 1688, he grew up in the kingdom 
of Stoddard, took his Yale degree in 1706, and settled in Elizabeth Town 
in 1709, where he needed eight years to persuade his congregation to 
join the Synod of Philadelphia. In the long run, the fact that the Presby- 
terian Church received, in its formative stages, this New England ele- 
ment, of which Dickinson is foremost, was to have repercussions felt even 
today; the immediate result was that in the center of the most powerful 
organization of the Middle Colonies stood a group who resisted the doc- 
trinal mentality of the Scotch-Irish, who fought against slavish subscrip- 
tion to even The Westminster Confession. How do you know, Dickinson 
demanded of the Philadelphia Synod in 1729, that the Confession is con- 
tained word-for-word in Scripture? "I challenge you to bring one Word 
to evince your Certainty; that our Interpretations are agreeable to the 
Meaning of the Holy Ghost; and have the Divine approbation that any 
Sect under Heaven may'n't bring in the same Cause." These are mo- 
mentous sentences which commenced a long campaign, but it has not 
always been realized that they are substantially what Stoddard had said 
about the church covenant: what is not explicitly disclosed in the Word 
of God is not needed in America. 

Thus in the first years of the eighteenth century multiplicity continued 
to grow out of simplicity; the covenant theology, having conceived and 
cradled the principle of voluntary consent, set the New England mind at 
work destroying that theology. The whelps were eating up the dam. He 
among the offspring who appeared in the mantle of autocracy was the 
one most clearly to assert the right of man to read the Bible for himself, 
and to establish the social order upon reason and nature. The assurance 
that this process should not be reversed, that no interest could any longer 
enforce intellectual uniformity, came in 1707 when Wfllard died and 


John Leverett was chosen President of Harvard. The charter of 1650 
was resumed by a simple resolution of the legislature, and the "enlarged 
Catholic spirit" captured the school of the prophets. 

The Mathers fumed, Cotton declaring that the College might as well 
be given to the Bishop of London. However, thirty-nine ministers (Colman 
the only one from Boston, but among others John Wise) assured 
Dudley of their satisfaction, noted that "the greatest part of the now ris- 
ing ministry" had been educated under him and Brattle, and that they 
fully expected "to see religion and learning thrive and flourish, under 
Mr. Leverett's wise conduct and influence, as much as ever yet it hath 
done." Stoddard received his copy of the petition too late to sign (he was 
far away), but sent Colman his hearty approbation. "I desire you," said 
Dudley to the once mighty Increase, "will keep your station, and let fifty 
or sixty good ministers, your equals in the province, have a share in the 
government of the college, and advise thereabout as well as yourselves, 
and I hope all will be well." With the prospect that still more of the ris- 
ing ministers might imbibe Leverett's spirit, there was no prospect that the 
councils of associations could impose upon the churches such persons as the 
Mathers judged "fit." While Stoddard prepared to renew the fight, to 
push his radicalism to even greater lengths, the Proposals gathered dust, 
except that in Chebacco Parish the man who had once defied Andros was 
troubled by their implications; like Stoddard, he commenced to ask him- 
self upon what philosophical bases this covenanted society actually did rest. 



want persons of your character," wrote John Lev- 
erett to Colman; at that moment, in Bath, Colman was proving his char- 
acter by preaching upon the evidences of the Divinity to be derived from 
the beauty, regularity, and order of the visible world: from the sun, air, 
water, and earth, from the sensitive creatures, from the shapes and beauties 
of animal forms. From these data he proved the existence of natural con- 
science and divine judgments; he so celebrated the uses of the intellect 
its searching into nature, soaring to the skies and bringing down the 
science of astronomy, constructing noble systems of ethics and politics 
that he could happily arrive at the eminently emotional conviction that 
"the universe had at least a blunder without a humane mind in it." 

That design was to be proved by natural evidences had always been 
a staple of Puritan theology, but Colman's technique radiated a new kind 
of serenity: 

Without a summer, the earth would yield no Increase, but everlasting sterility 
would follow: without a Winter, the Earth would have no rest, but would bee 
too soon worn out . . . Without a Spring, the change from cold to hot would 
be sudden & very prejudicial to nature. & autumn again prepares for winter, mak- 
ing the passage gradual & tolerable from heat 10 cold. 

The universe thus described remarkably resembles Benjamin Colman: 
everything gradual and tolerable, nothing sudden or prejudicial. Such was 
the irenical, the conciliatory insight he brought home from his sojourn 
among what were left of the United Brethren; he summarized himself 
in praising William Brattle: "wise and discreet; humane, affable, courteous 
and obliging; free, open, sincere and upright ... a known peace-maker 
to persons or societies*" Of another contemporary he could imagine noth- 
ing finer to say than that "he was no furious Bigot in Religion, but of a 
Spirit of Moderation." His sermons are filled with citations not only from 
Plutarch and such Dissenters as Baxter and "Mr. Milton," but also from 
tolerant Anglicans like Bishops Bull, Beveridge, Patrick, and above all 
Tfllotson. His was not a profound or speculative mind, but it was graceful, 
and therein consists his importance. 

He himself said of one of his disquisitions that he had nothing new to 
contribute "except in Method, Stile, Allusion, etc." In England he 


learned to adduce as a supieme proof of the divine authorship of the 
Bible its style: "it is not tumid & affected, but scorned the embellish- 
ments of fancy," and exhibited his own cast of mind by insisting that 
it is supremely natural. Scripture scorns "humane laws of Method," and 
nowhere descends into the pattern of such artificial discourse "as we in 
Sermons first propose a doctrine, & then explain its forms & then produce 
arguments for its proof." For New England, where the rigid scheme of 
doctrine, reasons, and uses had held absolute sway over the processes of the 
mind, this was liberation indeed, opening the road toward a discourse that 
might experiment with freer modes of address, that could approximate 
an Addisonian essay. 

In 1715 (Benjamin Franklin was ten years old), Colman eulogized 
Thomas Bridge of the First Church because he "always cloth'd his Tho'ts 
in clean, decent and manly language." His own conception of elegance 
left him unresponsive to certain markedly manly writings in the Age of 
Queen Anne; when he argued that Boston should establish a market 
m order to keep country men from hawking and sauntenng about the 
town, he begged forgiveness for "the coarseness of the Expression." But 
if his appreciation of the manliness in the Augustan ideal was somewhat 
deficient, he subscribed without reservation to its renovated conceptions 
of cleanliness and decency, from the moment he began to publish, the 
prose of Increase Mather, let alone that of Cotton, in fact of all the older 
generation, became antiquated. Even those in the younger generation who, 
like Thomas Prince or Joseph Sewall, were of Cotton Mather's party and 
therefore opponents of Colman owed their style to him rather than to 
their master. 

Since Colman set the tone for the next decades, it is interesting to ob- 
serve just what he did with the tradition of the "plain style." His two 
most important books both appeared in 1707, one indicating what he 
thought had become a major concern of the epoch, The Government and 
Improvement of Mirth, and the other A Practical Discourse upon the Par- 
able of the Ten Virgins, deliberately inviting comparison with the treat- 
ment by Thomas Shepard that long since had become a devotional classic 
in both Englands. Shepard had formulated his "doctrine" thus: "All those 
that are espoused unto Christ ought to be in a constant and continual 
readiness to meet Christ"; Colman's runs: "An open visible Profession 
of Christianity is the Indispensible Duty of all to whom the Gospel comes." 
Shepard, defining his terms, said, "Virgins are such as are fit for marriage, 
and not defiled with any man," and declared those shut out of the ordi- 
nances who go "a whoring from God." Colman approached the metaphor 
in this wise: 

I wou'd check the Exuberance of Sense and Fancy in so nice a Matter, re- 
membring with what Decency the Subject expects to be treated and how ill I 
<ihou'd recommend Parity by trespassing on it through an unguarded Manage- 


ment. My Instances therefore in respect of Propriety of the Similitude shall be the 

Where Shepard wrote, and the founders had exulted with him, "if love 
be great, there is little standing on terms let me have him though I beg 
with him," Colman's boldness overcame his diffidence only this far: "At 
least Religious Love is decently free and open in declaring its regard to 
its glorious Object." In the Discount he particularly leaned upon Tfllot- 
son, "the greatest Example of Charity and Moderation that the Age pro- 
duc'd," who had remarked upon "the charitable Decorum" the Savior 
always contrived to observe in His most earthy parables! 

In 1728 Thomas Prince had to acknowledge that Cotton Mather's 
style was "something singular, and not so agreeable to the Gust of the 
Age," but was to plead nevertheless that in his "very emphatical" manner 
"we clearly see the Beauty and Life of Religion, in the strongest Colours." 
By a studied avoidance of ovei emphasis, Colman softened the colors of 
both rhetoric and religious emotion, yet he liberated colonial prose for the 
expression of other emotions indeed, taught it how to compose whole 
paragraphs where the passions were muted to gentle and gratifying feelings. 
Thus he was primarily responsible for bringing to New England a con- 
sciousness of "the Age," an awareness that the Enlightenment had dawned 
and that provincial imitators of the capital should hasten to become en- 
lightened. He deftly showed by his example that the driving, narrow con- 
troversialism and intensity of the seventeenth century had become bad form. 
He was fully instructed that the spirit of this new age often found expres- 
sion in skepticism, Deism, atheism, but he also knew that the forces of a 
sober and moderate, yet by no means ascetic, morality were mobilizing 
against these tendencies, and he specifically aligned himself with "Mr. 
Collier's" attack upon immorality in the drama. "The Humour of the 
Age is for a turn or two of wit" ; hence he felt that he was indeed address- 
ing himself to a central problem by treating in his first bid for fame not 
some abstract doctrine or problem in polity, not the soul's preparation or 
the Gospel covenant, but mirth. 

Not that the result can in any sense be called hilarious; Colman pleaded 
for "sober mirth," and found nothing attractive in tavern boistrousness 
where "Drink has intoxicated men and banish'd Reason and Sobriety." 
But he did inaugurate a tradition of New England letters by recognizing, 
what no native had yet ventured to commemorate, something that had 
in fact become an amenity of society in Boston: 

A great deal of Pleasantry there is in the Town, and very graceful and charm- 
ing it is so far as it is Innocent and Wise. Our Wit like our Air is clear and 
Keen, and in very Many 'tis exalted by a Polite Education, meeting with good 
Natural Parts. 

Hence Colman marked the cultural transition quite simply by contend- 
ing that Christian virtue may "consist with Occasional Mirth, or with 


Habitual Chearfulness," by asserting that melancholy people "commonly 
make drooping Christians, to the disadvantage of Religion." Thomas 
Brattle gave the Brattle Street Church an organ, the first such ecclesiasti- 
cal instrument in the colonies, to which has been attributed the beginning 
of a much needed improvement in communal singing; while taking care 
not to approve "loose Sonnets," Colman glorified music, when "Address't 
with Art," as a means of working upon our souls "in ways adapted to 
our Frame and Nature." That indeed is the remarkable feature of this 
astonishing book, its justification of a modicum of joyousness as suiting 
with a faculty which "Nature" would not have put into us, or made so 
beautiful and so pleasing, without intending it to be used. For a people 
who had been fed a steady diet of jeremiads, it must have been a relief 
beyond our conceiving to hear from at least one pulpit: "Why shou'd not 
Holy Joy express it self freely? Why shou'd not the Brightness of the 
Face, and the Life in the Eye, speak it ? and the Tone of the Voice be 

It would be entirely false to suggest that Colman was either a rationalist 
or a naturalist; the third of his most sustained works, A Rumble Discourse 
of the Incomp-ehensibleness of God, in 1715, argues at length that the 
human understanding is disenabled and depraved by the fall of man, 
although after demonstrating the incapacity of the natural intellect to 
comprehend the Deity, for him the wonderful "use" of this demonstra- 
tion becomes: "What is the duty of rational creatures as related to so 
glorious a Maker." The effect is not so much to render deplorable our 
limitations as to encourage us to live with them, enchanted that "the 
Understanding is the Superior Faculty in Man, by which he is raised 
above the Rest of the Visible Creation: And this Power is the Glory of 
Humane Nature." Regeneration remains an "act of Dominion," but it 
consists in bringing a reasonable creature to subjection through ways 
agreeable to its nature, liberty, and faculties; it is a "Rational Dominion," 
governing "by Law free & Intelligent Beings." 

Once more, this proposition had been a teaching of the federal theology 
(in certain respects, the founders, with their utter devotion to logic, were 
greater "rationalists" certainly vastly more "intellectualists" than Col- 
man). What made Coiman's presentation striking was its context, which 
was not the covenant or the logical cosmology of technologia, but the 
universe of modern science. His emphasis upon the argument from design 
was inspired by thoughts of "The Discoveries of this kind made by Micro- 
scopes," or of the learned men who now believe "from what they do 
see and know of the Creation by Tellescopes, that there may be and in 
probability are many such Worlds as this which we behold." The prin- 
ciple of plentitude excited his wonder more than definitions of covenant 
membership: the church covenant was so little a mystery transacted be- 
tween God and man that it could be plainly derived from the law of 
nature, but how truly mysterious it had become that this globe should 


hang suspended in the ether, "How Unsearchable is the Law of its Cen- 
ter or Gravitation, wherein it is fixt!" Evidently he had heard of, if not 
altogether comprehended, Sir Isaac Newton. 

To understand precisely the influence of Colman upon this provincial 
civilization, one must notice that while he points toward a freer and more 
rational theology, he also opens up a vein of rational emotionalism, of 
what may well be called a sentimentalized piety. Our labors, he said at 
the ordination of William Cooper in 1716, are of both head and heart; 
our pains require not only that we put our materials into due frame, but 
that we bring "lively Affection with us in our Work." His ideal of style 
meant shedding the archaisms of the Mathers, but it also designed a prose 
in which ordinary emotions were given greater play. If the tone of the voice 
were kept natural, then naturalness itself would produce its own sort of 
purple patches. His discourses on the natural universe delighted in pleasures 
of the senses: "the very Grass we tread on, and every Weed in the Field 
as well as the green Herb and painted Flower in the Garden." Or again, 
"What Beautie for our gazing Eyes? What Pleasing Sounds for our Ears? 
What Delicacy of Food for our Palates?" In a mood which associates him, 
even from afar, with such a poet as Thomson, Colman launched into rhap- 
sodic panegyric of a universe which "speaks aloud the Pulchritude of its 

Immediately after his ordination, when the furor over his Manifesto sub- 
sided, Colman applied himself to publication; presently he became Cotton 
Mather's nearest rival in productivity. The three titles already mentioned 
are his major efforts, but he poured forth the usual ordination and funeral 
sermons, advices to young people, pleas for reformation, lectures, artillery 
discourses, and election orations. In all this output, down to the Great 
Awakening he avoided controversy, entering into only one fray (that over 
inoculation, where he managed to be in full accord with the other clergy) . 
Sometimes, when he provided instruction, he would realize that his reflec- 
tions were "too general and lax," and try to give them more weight. To 
judge from surviving letters, he and Stoddard were on good terms, and 
Stoddard seems to have been most friendly in Boston with those of Colman's 
rather than of Mather's persuasion, with Wadsworth, William Brattle, 
Ebenezer Pemberton, Bradstreet, and, of course, Leverett. Stoddard knew 
nothing at first hand of London, Oxford, or Bath, but in his library, replen- 
ished by visits to Boston booksellers, were volumes of the "new" divinity. 
No more than Colman did he see any conflict between them and the posi- 
tions he had taken in The Safety of A^eanng (which Colman admired). 
Instead, he found in them encouragement to think for himself, to settle 
ecclesiastical problems on the grounds of common sense rather than of aca- 
demic logic. He too began to elevate to an equal rank with reasonings from 
the Word of God those extracted from the order of nature: he commenced 
to preach that "the world is a glass reflecting the glory of God; and when 
men's eyes are opened, they may plainly see it." Without qualifying or in 


the slightest altering his Calvinism, he put especial emphasis upon the asser- 
tion, "Reason enlightened by the Spirit of God, teaches men convincingly 
what God is." 

Meanwhile, the ability of the Mathers to concentrate upon matters theo- 
logical was being distracted by Joseph Dudley, whom they had helped to 
put in the governor's chair. Although he gratified them by drawing the fire 
of Elisha Cooke, whose election to the Council he regularly set aside, and 
by keeping up his formal membership m the Church of Roxbury, yet he 
showed himself an Anglican at heart, and worse than that, a friend of 
Leverett and Colman. The character of Dudley is difficult for the modern 
American to comprehend; but, as we have seen, he must be evaluated in 
any history of the New England mind. In 1705 he found the road into 
Boston blocked by two Yankee farmers taking their produce to town ; he 
berated them, even attacked them, with all the splenetic frenzy of a Squire 
Western, and poor Judge Sewall was much torn between his innate respect 
for authority and his sympathy with his countrymen, who conducted them- 
selves with great dignity. The best defense for Dudley is that he had some- 
how acquired an understanding of the imperial interest; yet to say this is to 
pose the question of where or how he came by it: to which I can give no 
other answer but that like Gershom Bulkeley he learned disgust when try- 
ing to find his place in the New England society. Not that he and Bulkeley 
were bad Americans: considering the fact that so much of American litera- 
ture consists of a critique of America by those in revulsion against it, we 
should not be put off because Dudley and Bulkeley were stigmatized as 
"Tories." Certainly the Dudley who returned in glory in 1702 was the 
same who uttered the insulting words to Ipswich, who executed Leisler's 
party in New York, who had nothing but contempt for colonial particular- 
ism. Yet the Mathers, who had perceived the significance of Bellomont, 
supported his candidacy because at least he was a New England man (that 
being, they were reduced to supposing, better than nothing) ; the name of 
Increase Mather still carried weight with the Foreign Office, and so Dudley 
got his job. 

In 1706 one of his agents, Samuel Vetch, was accused of trading with 
the enemy, and the charge soon included Dudley as well. In constitutional 
history, this affair is important because the General Court (led by Cooke) 
fined Vetch and his associates, only to have their sentence annulled by the 
Privy Council; for this narrative, the noteworthy fact is that the fracas 
coincided with the election of Leverett, whom Dudley supported, as Presi- 
dent of Harvard* That party in the House which pushed the investigation 
of Vetch had been hostile to Increase Mather; but both he and his son, 
smarting from their defeat at Harvard, flung themselves into the assault 
upon their traitorous ally. They addressed to him two of the most insulting 
letters in the literature of New England contumely, and because he would 
not heed them, published in November 1707 A Memorial of the Present 
Deplorable State of New-England. Such a controversy would be decided 


(if at all) not m Boston but m London; there Dudley printed his answer, 
A Modest Enquiry > and there the Mathers (Cotton no doubt the once again 
anonymous author) arranged for the publication of The Deplorable State 
of New-England By Reason of a Covetous and Treacherous Governour, 
and Pusillanimous Counsellors. To be sure, this was not a reply to Dudley, 
because it was sent off before copies of Dudley's broadside reached Boston, 
but it was another of those craftily inspired Mathenan "anticipations," in 
this case taking advantage of the ignominious failure of the military attack, 
in May 1707, upon Port Royal, for which they gleefully assumed that 
Dudley could be blamed. While all this was going on, Colman continued 
to preach resolutely against envy and revenge, by which was reckoned, ac- 
cording to Judge Sewall, that "he lash'd Dr. Mather and Mr. Cotton 
Mather ... for what they have written, preach'd and pray'd about the 
present Contest with the Govr." 

In literary history the two letters and the three pamphlets are memorable 
not only because they display a few of the more opprobrious habits that had 
accrued (outside official speech) to the New England language, but also 
because indirectly they show that the frame of the jeremiad was broken by 
the obstinacy of Joseph Dudley. Cotton Mather realized that he and his 
father no longer enjoyed much esteem among the mass of the people, but 
he proposed nevertheless to fight Dudley in their name. Here the Mathers 
had to confess that what they had expected to be an instrument of orthodox 
supremacy, namely the Council, proved itself a feeble reed; but in the face 
of this admission, they still endeavored to excuse themselves by accusing 
Dudley of corrupting that body: "You hurry them; you force them; you 
chase them out of their pace; you drive them too fast" wherefore these 
hapless senators have been "Trappan'd." Those contemporaries who in the 
same year availed themselves of Colman's permission to indulge in moder- 
ate mirth could hardly ignore the humor of a situation in which Cotton 
Mather turned to the House of Representatives, the preserve of Elisha 
Cooke, and exhorted them to stand firm upon their nominations to the 
upper chamber: "Should you be Negativated out of the Council ... it 
would be a much greater Honour to you, than to be there." Ever since 
Dudley was installed, the recipients of this negativatmg treatment had been 
Elisha Cooke and his friends, the same insurgents against whom Increase 
Mather had allowed Phips first to exercise the power he had wished no 
governor to possess! How utterly, amid these shifting sands, the vision of a 
covenanted people had become obscured was revealed by Cotton's accusation 
that many Councillors outwardly complied with votes they inwardly dis- 
approved, in the hope that their measures would be defeated in the House. 
Increase had gained for Massachusetts the inestimable privilege of selecting 
these magistrates; by 1707, said his son, all one could behold was "the 
Pusillanimity, and Unfaithfulness of their Governour's Counsellors, who 
will, too many of them, Consent to almost any thing he would have them." 
(They had just consented to the election of Leverett! ) 


At this late date, the Mathers recollected Dudley's career as a minion of 
Andros; they emerged as champions of liberty. It was indeed too late. They 
coined splendid slogans. Dudley exercises arbitrary power, the people are 
bought and sold, the faces of the poor are ground. Dudley may have been 
a rogue, but in his answer he struck hard at the hidden purpose of the 
Mathers' invective and at their version of the jeremiad: they had for- 
merly maintained "that Dominion is founded in Grace; and knowing them- 
selves to be the elect people of God, they resolved to perfect what they had 
begun." Dudley delighted the sharp and clear wits of Boston by publishing 
the tale of a damsel of ill-repute who made an assault upon Cotton Mather's 
precarious virtue, and called him a would-be patriot who impressed only the 
inferior sort of people with his sanctimoniousness. Meanwhile, the Mathers 
rushed their second pamphlet to the press, for they learned that a petition 
of ministers had been organized in Dudley's favor. Cotton assured the 
world that the signatures of these rural pastors were obtained either by force 
or by circumvention, that not one minister in Boston would sign, that the 
petition meant nothing more than a vague endorsement of the principle of 
toleration. He told the endorsers that the governor's son Paul had been 
heard to say, "This Country will never be worth Living in, for Lawyers 
and Gentlemen, till the Charter is taken away," and he scolded them, 
"Your predecessors would not have done, as you have done." But nowhere 
in the Mathers' pamphlet does it directly appear what really infuriated them 
about this petition of the rural parsons: at the head of the list stood the name 
of Solomon Stoddard. 

After his election sermon in 1703, Stoddard published nothing except, 
in 1705, a lecture he gave in Boston, The Danger of Sfeedy Degeneration, 
which took the noncommittal ground of a jeremiad. Publications of the 
Mathers and their friends kept up a steady denunciation of The Doctrine 
of Instituted Churches, concentrating their fire not upon its consociational- 
ism (after the Proposals they dared not) , but upon its heretical thesis that 
membership did not require a previous profession of faith. (Every dig at 
Stoddard was, by implication, a thrust at Brattle Street, but Colman was 
resolved upon silence,) Stoddard took his time, and chose 1708, just when 
the Mathers were in their rage against Joseph Dudley, to publish The In- 
excusableness of Neglecting the Worship of God, under A Pretence of 
Being in an Unconverted Condition. Increase Mather promptly countered 
with A Dissertation wherein The Strange Doctrine Lately Published . . . 
is Examined and Confuted. He also brought out another edition of Thomas 
Doolitde's Treatise, with an "Advertisement Directed to the Communi- 
cants in the Churches of New England." The next year Stoddard came 
back with An Affleal to the Learned; whereupon a band of communicants 
in the North Church, remembering the strategy employed against Calef 
undoubtedly because Cotton Mather similarly inspired their hesitant pens 
issued An Appeal, of Some of the Unlearned, both to the Learned and Un- 
learned. VirtuaEy every Mather imprint of these years contains some ob- 


lique, or less than oblique, reference to Stoddard: the tone is, to say the least, 

Events had deepened Stoddard's conviction, and he could now state his 
position succinctly : external duties are parts merely of the external covenant. 
Behind this assertion lies his immense persuasion that the reality of anyone's 
regeneration is never to be proved in this life. Therefore both the sacraments 
the Supper as well as baptism are designed not to nourish faith in those 
who already have it, but to be "converting" ordinances for the help, for the 
stimulation, of sinners. This confirmed, by a more profound analysis, his 
earlier thesis that no such thing as church covenant exists, or ever did exist, 
in Scripture or in nature, he refuted that error by appealing not to the 
Bible or nature, or even to reason, but to the lessons of history in western 

Stoddard's doctrine is actually the culmination it seems almost inevi- 
table of that line of research set in motion by the founders themselves 
when they made their distinctions between outward and inward covenant, 
or when they tentatively found a place for hypocrites. He simply gives the 
final stroke to the wedge that had for so long been driven deeper and deeper 
between the two. His motive is clear: he wanted to solve the intolerable 
dilemma of the sacraments. The covenant which God makes with a visible 
people is visible, and does not require sanctifying grace; hence the people 
have "a natural power" to attend visible ordinances. Unregenerate men 
are not in the internal covenant, yet they may be in the external; and hypo- 
crites, as long as they behave, do great service: "They help to maintain the 
Church and Ordinances of God, they do defend the Church, they do in- 
courage the Church, they are Serviceable by their gifts, by their authority, 
by their prudence & zeal, by their Estates; and it would be exceeding diffi- 
cult for the Church to subsist without them." Churches therefore judge 
only of appearances, not of realities; wherefore all those "that are in ex- 
ternal Covenant with God, and neither Ignorant nor Scandalous may law- 
fully come to the Lords Supper." To stand upon the ancient (and mis- 
taken) doctrine of New England, that men are commanded to come but 
damned if they come unworthily, is, said Stoddard, "unreasonable." 

The New England mind dearly loved logic, but Stoddard's was a new 
kind of dialectic, the premises shot out of his experience like bullets from 
a musket, the syllogisms unerringly aimed at social realities: 

The visible people of God are able to keep the external Covenant. It cannot 
be said to be lawful for them to keep the external Covenant, if it doth depend 
upon their Conversion which is indeed out of their power. But indeed there is 
no part of the external Covenant, that is beyond mens natural power, or their 
legal power. 

It had now become abundantly evident that "saintship" might consist with 
considerable iniquity: why then keep up an artificial and unreal distinction? 
Visibility consists in saying "yes," and all yea-sayers which would mean 


all the town except its idiots and most notorious sinners should receive the 
Lord's Supper in the hope it might do them good. Sanctifying grace is in- 
deed "an inestimable blessing," but it "is not necessary unto the Lawfull 
attending of any duty of Worship." All apologies for the Half- Way Cove- 
nant admitted that churches made mistakes, and of late years had admitted 
it generously; let us then give up the foolish pretense, recognize that the 
best we can attain is a "probable hope," wherefore "such persons may come 
as are not sincere." For decades the order had tried to attribute moral ability 
to those who merely owned the covenant; why not face the facts? "When 
such profess faith, they make a true Profession, they profess that which they 
do indeed believe, though their profession be not graciously sincere, & men 
are bound to speak the truth, though they do with a moral, and not a gra- 
cious sincerity." The people may be ignorant of the creed, but they "may 
soon be sufficiently informed." To suppose that men may be born into the 
covenant, and live from childhood to maturity as visible saints, and yet not 
be capable of coming to the Table because of some hypothetical lack of 
faith, is once more "unreasonable." With calculated irony, Stoddard 
appealed to the learned by a pragmatic recasting of the founders' doctrine: 
*"A11 ordinances are for the Saving good of those that they are to be admin- 
istered unto," and then left the learned to stew in the juice of their own 
erudition while advertising, "I dare not my self, as one of the Stewards in 
Gods House, refuse his Bread to such as regularly demand it." Thus he 
subtly concealed from view, yet allowed the realistic to perceive, that by 
putting himself in the public position of being prepared to dispense the biead 
to those who demanded it, he contrived that in a frontier community those 
who would not make the demand should suffer the consequences of self- 

Stoddard did not intend to be as "large" as most Reformed Churches or 
as the Church of Scotland; he wanted a power of debarring the scandalous, 
and he demanded that church members make at least as much of a profes- 
sion as nodding their heads. Hence he was not a renegade from Congrega- 
tionalism to Presbyterianism : he evolved his thought out of American condi- 
tions, realizing, first, that with the waning of political power, wider inclu- 
sions had to be allowed so that the churches might subsist without the help 
of dedicated magistrates, and, second, that the ordeal to which the doctrine 
of the holy sacrament subjected ordinary men was not only wasteful but 
excruciating. By it, "Sacrament Days which should be Days of Comfort, 
will become Days of Torment," because in the Matherian logic, a sincere 
Christian "is charged to come because of his hopes, and condemned for 
coming because he is unsanctified." By a curious analogy (to which, of 
course, Stoddard would never have confessed) to Calef's discovery in the 
realm of witchcraft, Stoddard found that in the church covenant men who 
aspired to sainthood were judged guilty of sinfulness by entertaining honest 
doubts about themselves. The presumption had become that if a man did 
not publicize his holiness, he was guilty of every enormity; hence many, as 


did Giles Corey at Salem, refused to speak at all. Forty years ago, said 
Stoddard, we yielded to the fact that multitudes were unbaptized and con- 
cocted the Half- Way Covenant, now we have a still more perilous prob- 
lem: "To this day there be Four to One that do neglect the Lords-Supper; 
as if it did not belong to them to magnify God." And what wonder, when 
people were instructed by the Mathers? "It is a poor thing for men to be 
scared into Religion, but it is sad indeed for men to be scared out of Reli- 
gion, & to neglect Gods Worship out of fear of God." If scanng there had 
to be, Stoddard would rather scare people in than out. 

For, as he was able to show, the long succession of jeremiads, coming 
down since the first sermons on days of humiliation, were all attempts to 
frighten the populace, and had progressively become frankly so; they had 
not worked had become, in fact, a bore. In the light of this fact, and 
not out of the splendid logic of the founders, the Bible should be read anew, 
in the a piori certainty that a deduction so unreasonable as that which dis- 
courages godly men from doing their duty is not to be found therein. By 
universal admission, these were "degenerate times"; the clergy were only 
adding to the momentum of declension by excluding moral citizens from 
the churches. "Staying from Ordinances is not the way to fit men for Or- 
dinances; the neglecting of the Sacrament is the way to make the Country 
grow profane." (Could a culture which had achieved coherence on the 
assumption that the generality of men would always strive to fit themselves 
for the ordinances face up to the fact that in the very firmness of its asser- 
tion it had evoked its antithesis, so that a realist, even while remaining a 
Calvinist, could blame it for destroying itself? ) The Mathers accused Stod- 
dard of formalism, of sacrificing inwardness for outwardness, even of 
Popery; he retorted that their doctrine "has a tendency to nourish carnal 
confidence in them that are admitted, and to nourish Prophaneness in them 
that are excluded." It encouraged the presumptuous to suppose themselves 
converted; the bold are flattered "as if the bitterness of death were past," 
yet all this while the conscientious were aghast. His wife's father, the found- 
ing saint of Windsor, had, in his old age, so come to doubt his regeneration 
that in despair he withdrew from the sacrament. The man who wrote Tta 
Safety of A-pfearing understood the agonies and uncertainties of the soul, 
and in his forthrightness refused to add unto them. 

On the intellectual side, Stoddard's argument embodies an element of 
skepticism, or at least a deep distrust of the power of the human mind to 
penetrate to this particular truth. He uses reason as a weapon to destroy 
what the Mathers considered infallible logic. He may be said to have 
brought into the open that strain of nominalism which always lurks in Cal- 
vinism, but he did it without becoming an Arminian (although the Mathers 
stooped to call him one). He definitely did not regard reason (no matter 
how many times he dismissed his opponents as unreasonable) as in any 
sense itself the giver or revealer of truth. By contrast with the Mathers he 
appears strange as this may sound anti-intellectual: they were insisting 


that a pattern does exist, that men do become regenerate and that of them 
churches can consist; they knew that in this world the pattern is difficult 
to make out, they realized mat it had proved less easily translatable into 
practice than the founders had supposed; they had retreated step by step 
from the pure doctrine of John Davenport, back through the Half- Way 
Covenant, the jeremiads and the ownings, but now they stood at the last 
unsurrenderable bastion. Suppose it be true, as Stoddard says, that in many 
towns there are only two or three capable of demonstrating their regenera- 
tion: "Must we have Churches gathered, and the Body of the People ad- 
mitted to the Lords Table, when there are but two or three among them 
fit to be there?" Because there are great difficulties in detecting the real 
saints, is this any reason for abandoning the effort? Especially when the 
judgment by "rational charity" allows for mistakes? Had Stoddard merely 
contended that visible saints are not always inward saints, "he would have 
affirmed, that which no body will contradict," but he was saying that saints 
by calling are to be accepted whether they be converted or no. "Did you 
ever hear," demanded Increase Mather, "of Unconverted Saints by calling 
before?" This notion "is Contradictto m adjecto, a notorious Contradiction 
of it self." His tirades are thus studded with terms of the old logic, with 
those turns of phrase by which disputants, not only at Harvard but more 
impressively at Oxford and Cambridge, gained momentous triumphs, the 
effects of which were to be reflected in the doctrinal formulations of every 
rural parson. Stoddard knew all that rigmarole, knew it by heart, and was 
through with it. 

Increase Mather would make all allowance possible for failures of corre- 
spondence between inward and outward, but would never acknowledge 
that the outward could have any validity unless based upon the objective 
reality of the inward. He could never understand how much of an em- 
piricist Stoddard had become; perhaps Stoddard himself did not compre- 
hend, although he did amazingly develop a few of the implications in his 
position. Because he had to fend off the Mathers, he applied himself to 
proving by word and deed that his direct approach would get results denied 
to scholasticism. In 1712 and 1718 he had two more "harvests" which 
were the envy of all his colleagues. In 1714 he published Guide to Christ, 
which was to reach as large a public as The Safety of Appearing and which 
represents the farthest extension yet made of the concept of preparation. 
He found the area within which preliminary motions might operate so wide 
as to encompass virtually all human activity; this "we learn by Experience" 
and it "is very agreeable to Reason." He was infinitely less bothered than 
Thomas Hooker ever had been by Calvinist scruples: "Men are able to do 
many things in order to believing, and hereby they are put upon it to pre- 
pare for that." In these respects he furnished a model for hundreds of 
younger preachers; it would be difficult to overestimate the force of his 
example in the western regions or in early New Jersey, just as it would be 
hard to make too much of Colman's upon Harvard graduates, yet many 


historians, insufficiently skilled concerning the power of the word and the 
phrase, have given only passing mention to either of them. 

Stoddard's son-in-law, William Williams, said that he was a grave man 
but also of a delightful conversation, "accompanied with a very sweet Af- 
fability & a Freedom from Moroseness." If given to mirth, Stoddard never 
laughed more heartily than at the self-confessed "Unlearned" of the North 
Church. They prostrated themselves before the titanic scholarship of In- 
crease Mather and sneered at the "very little Reading" exhibited by Stod- 
dard; they did "not think it any Answer to an Argument, to flout at the 
Author for being a Man of great Reading." Stoddard was secure enough 
in his own kind of scholarship ; but he hammered insistently upon the theme 
which, as he pronounced it, was to have wide effect, that ministers ought 
not to carry their academic erudition into the pulpit. Increase Mather, fight- 
ing 10 keep the visible church in some degree of conformity to the invisible, 
had said in 1677 that the interest of religion and good literature was iden- 
tical; Stoddard said, "Whatever Books Men have read, there is great need 
of experimental Knowledge in a Minister; many particular Things wfll 
occur that he will not meet withal in Books." He knew none better at 
what cost young men were sent to college: "the whole Family is fain to 
pinch that they may go through with it." Learning might be a help to 
civility and piety, but it could not engender either, and " 'tis not worth the 
while for persons to be sent to the Colledge to learn to Complement men, 
and Court Women." (It would be worth much for certain underprivileged 
members of this society who were learning from handbooks on manners, 
or from The Spectator, if not how to compliment at least how to court, to 
hear an old Harvard graduate thus tell off the society in which they were 
prevented from figuring solely because their fathers were not rich enough.) 
Such an investment, continued Stoddard, should "prepare them for Publick 
Service," which demands practical results. 

As he saw it, "it is not enough for a Minister to be able to make some 
Edifying Discourses" (one thinks of Wadsworth), he must know how "to 
set those points that are more intricate in a true light." What he meant by 
casting a true light upon intricate points Stoddard showed by becoming the 
foremost New Englander in preaching, and advocating that others preach, 
the terrors of hell: "If men be thoroughly scared with the danger of damna- 
tion, they will readily improve their possibility, and not stand for assurance 
of success." Of a piece with his scorn for preaching from notes ("Experi- 
ence shews that Sermons Read are not so profitable as others"), or for the 
use of historical arguments ("Men cannot believe them to be infallibly true 
upon probable Arguments; Probable Arguments must be looked on but as 
probable and not convincing"), was his contempt, in which the whole pas- 
sion of the man appears, for those who spoke only to comfort and encour- 
age, who talked about moral duties and awakened nobody. "The body of 
the People are in a perishing condition," and no gentle hint will awake 
them: "the threatnings of God had need ring in their Ears." Healing "plais- 


ters" do not eat away proud flesh, and those who would convert others 
must use "piercing words." Too many are merely rhetorical, as if they 
were still in college: "this may tickle the Fancies of Men, and scratch Itch- 
ing Ears; but we have Mens Consciences to deal with." Of course, he 
agreed, men cannot be fnghtened into the love of God, but "they may be 
scared into Reformation." Yet it requires a real man to frighten other men : 
"Experience fits men to teach others." In 1727 he told Northampton (by 
then they did as he commanded) to select, out of his grandsons, the child 
of Esther Edwards to be his colleague and successor; to him he bequeathed 
these admonitions. 

It is of the essence, in order to appreciate Stoddard, to comprehend that 
he was not rationalizing conversion; on the contrary, in contrast to Colman, 
in his preaching the experience figures as a cataclysmic flash, a convulsion. 
Though he expanded the period of preparation, he contracted the crisis to 
a brief moment of ecstasy: "This change is made at once on the Soul, it 
is wrought in the twinkeling of an eye." It is not a gradual awareness, it is 
violent: "and tho* men never forget it, yet they cannot call to mind all that 
they were convinced of." The images Stoddard used were startling, and 
upon his grandson their lesson was not lost: "So, if a man should caste his 
eye upon a beautiful Person, he is much affected with his beauty; but he 
can't give a particular account of all his features, the comeliness of his fore- 
head, eyes, cheeks and lips, nor give a description of them." It would be a 
mistake to suppose that Stoddard's reforms in polity came from a lessened 
rather than from a heightened sense of the reality of conversion ; although 
historians have made this error, Increase Mather did not: he argued that 
Stoddard was led to abolish public relations because his own experience had 
been of "such notable Operations of the Holy Spirit" that he let himself set 
too high a standard for lesser Christians, and so dared not impose it. Were 
we to measure ordinary men by a Stoddard, said Increase in one of his few 
handsome passages, "there will not be in a whole Town, Regenerate Per- 
sons enough, to make a Church," whereas by the milder criterion of Bos- 
ton, "a Judgment of Charity would find a considerable Number." But 
there was exactly Stoddard's point (which neither of the Mathers was ca- 
pable of grasping) : if the experience is so mighty and so shattering, then it 
is better that all men be brought to face it, and none coddled into supposing 
it easy. His last works Three Sermons Lately Preach' d at Boston, 1717; 
A Treatise Concerning Conversion, 1719; The Defects of Preachers Re- 
-proved, 1724 are as searching investigations of the religious psychology 
as any published in New England between the analyses of Hooker or Shep- 
ard and the Religious Affections of his grandson (much in the latter being, 
in fact, indebted to them) . 

Considering, then, what a turn Jonathan Edwards was to give to the 
Stoddard tradition, and at what cost to himself, one does well to remember 
that from the beginning to the end of his own career, Stoddard's idea 
was that man does not know for certain about salvation. If true re- 


generation be utterly impossible to ascertain contrary to the founders' 
courageous confidence then to admit that fact became for the Mathers 
a final defeat; by deliberately contending that no one ever is assured, 
Stoddard turned defeat into victory. "Men don't know who are blessed," 
but "this uncertainty of Election is no discouragement." By surrendering 
to skepticism, by rediscovering that the Almighty, as approached from 
Northampton as from Geneva, is inscrutable, Stoddard faced unflinchingly 
what the Mathers could not contemplate: "There is no infallible Sign 
of Grace, but Grace. Grace is known only by Intuition. All the external 
Effects of Grace may flow from other causes." There simply was no ab- 
solute rule in Scripture for distinguishing between saints and hypocrites 
any more than, according to Calef, there was a rule for detecting witches. 
All we know is that saints, hypocrites, and witches exist. "There is not 
knowledge enough upon Earth in order to the practice of it"; upon this, 
in the last analysis, clerical humility was founded the conduct of the 
proudest ecclesiastical autocrat of his generation: "The Church through 
their ignorance must wholly forbear acting, for their knowledge of other 
mens Piety is but a supposition." He went so far that he would not dogma- 
tize about the inward state even of those cast out for the worst offenses: 
"the reason of their rejection is because they are obstinate in Scandal." In 
him appears that admiration for the likeness to Omnipotence discernible 
in the darkness of sin which for the greatest of theologians, from Augustine 
to Kierkegaard, has proved an instrument for the humbling of spiritual pnde. 

Or, to put it another way, Stoddard made it possible, for the first time in 
America, to talk about "varieties" of religious experience. The Mathers had 
been forced to adonowledge the variety, but held that all manifestations are 
resolvable into a single archetype. Stoddard gave up that effort, and erected 
a new coherence, adapted to frontier society, in which men could be dif- 
ferent from one another and the church freed from an impractical formula. 
Out of his initial skepticism, Stoddard inaugurated the era of revivalism, 
which his grandson was to bring to a climax. He surrendered Winthrop's 
vision of a city on the hill, and used other means to gain his own ends; he 
bullied town officials and rigged the election of legislators, and he refused 
to wax hypocritical about hypocrites. "All that are taught by the Father 
will make a Profession of Christ: but there be many that make that Pro- 
fession, that are not taught by the Father. There is a great difference be- 
tween the visible Church and the invisible." 

If the Mathers were left defending a beleaguered fortress, it must be 
said that in eastern New England they held it. "Stoddardeanism" proved 
unsuitable for import into the older areas, although it flowed across the 
Hudson into New Jersey. Henceforth neither the Mathers nor their fellows 
in the Cambridge Association have anything new to contribute to ecclesiasti- 
cal doctrine; they remain fixed on the system of covenants, committed to 
the ideology of the jeremiad. They lament declension, threaten affliction, 
deplore the paucity of converts, try to improve the baptismal covenant and 


to stimulate owning of the covenant m order to baptize a few more. They 
have no other resource but the stereotyped procedure, they call for a 
reformation of manners, and nothing happens nothing, that is, to be com- 
pared with Stoddard's hai vests. They lament their plight, but will not 
attempt to achieve those ends at the cost of The Cambridge Platform. In 
1708, Increase tried to cow Stoddard by calling him a false Presbyterian; 
he certainly was not like those "of the Union in London," of whom every 
one testified "against that Error of the Sacraments being a Converting 
ordinance." Yet all the Mathers' attempts to reinforce this charge, as in 
their issuing such Presbyterian writings as those of Quick and Doolittle, 
affected Stoddard as little as pebbles bouncing off a man-of-war. Obvi- 
ously the solution in eastern New England was no solution : the community 
merely got along with what it had. The Proposals failed; a large number 
of the published titles thereafter, by the Mathers, by Colman and most 
of the eastern ministers, are pleas for making the old system work, and 
represent no advance over themes codified in the 1690's. Until the end of 
our period and beyond it, even down to the Great Awakening the topic 
o ecclesiastical polity, although much bewritten, remains a barren branch. 

But during these years in the Valley, town after town went over to 
Stoddard, and so took a new lease on life. Some ministers, like Edward 
Taylor at Westfield, held out as long as they lived, but Stoddard survived 
most of them; at his death in 1729 only three (Enfield, Pelham, Belcher- 
town) resisted, and his heir entered easily into a vast demesne. The Mathers 
kept up a mfld fire, but their later lamentations are more whines than as- 
saults. Stoddard was so well entrenched that they virtually surrendered, and 
after 1710 made every effort to show they entertained no hard feelings. 
Increase, who in 1687 had loftily refused Stoddard a preface, did penance 
in 1714 by writing a glowing introduction to Stoddard's Guide to Christ, 
acknowledging that in some points (not fundamental) "I differ from this' 
beloved Author" 5 but as Jerome said that he could not but love Christ in 
his opponent Augustine, "so do I say concerning my Brother Stoddard." In 
1722 Cotton quoted with approval a suggestion for revising The West- 
minster Confession lately put forth by that renowned servant of God, "daily 
waiting to be dismissed unto his everlasting Rest; my venerable Uncle, Mr. 
Solomon Stoddard." It soon became a part of the Mathers' strategy to play 
down the controversy; Cotton in the Parentator hardly mentions it, and 
Samuel Mather, in The Life of the Very Reverend and Learned Cotton 
Mather, manages in 1729 to omit it entirely. Historians have followed the 
lead, and even among chroniclers of the Congregational churches, this great 
debate is seldom accorded its due. 

Yet there is no way in which the development of the American mind can 
be coherently told without an appreciation of the arguments. Because the 
contest resulted in a stalemate does not mean that it was without effect, 
although the more far-reaching consequences were to show themselves 
only in 1740. Even m more immediate terms, the impact was great: New 


England was effectually divided into two realms. There were still, of 
course, basic habits maintained from Maine to New Haven, and in that 
large sense the cultural pattern remained a unity; yet within that frame, 
the ecclesiastical order was definitely split, east opposed to west. When one 
remembers how central in the life of that society was the church, and how 
about it were organized concepts that have immense implications for 
American social history, this division becomes truly momentous, not to say 

Increase Mather lived just long enough to hear that the Presbyterian 
wing of the United Brethren, the group with \vhom he had had the greater 
sympathy during those years "I reckoned among the more signal Mercies of 
my life," was becoming notoriously tainted with Socinianism. Cotton lived 
five years more, to learn that Sociniamsm had indeed triumphed among 
the sons of his father's sometime allies. To the very end, as the political hope 
grew dimmer (alas, bewailed Increase at the funeral of John Foster in 
1711, eighteen years ago the governor and four of the Council belonged 
to the North Church: "Now there is none remaining"), the Mathers had 
no ecclesiastical argument left but to urge the obligations of the covenant, 
to threaten punishments upon those who defaulted, and to lament "What 
multitudes, Multitudes! turn their Backs" upon the Lord's Supper, con- 
tented with their placid half-way status. "Especially, Press them to Mind 
their Children of the Obligation which their Baptism has laid upon them" 
here, in one sentence, is the burden of most New Engknd imprints between 
the Proposals and the Awakening. Yet nothing more could be said, because 
the covenant was the way of the founders; those led by the Mathers could 
not see any other way, no matter how much they strove to make the baptism 
into an instrument of stimulation, to desert the twin principles of consent 
and of covenant. 

In this light, then, perhaps the most important note struck in the long 
debate between Mather and Stoddard was precisely that of the prestige of 
ancestors. Against both Brattle Street and Northampton the Mathers 
shrieked, in holy horror, that we must "abide in those Truths respecting 
the Order of the Gospel, which our Fathers have left with us a Legacy." 
It were "better to Dy," proclaimed Cotton, than to become a discomposer 
of that sacred heritage. But Stoddard was a man who, as William Williams 
put it, "us'd a freedom in examining of Things, and confin'd not himself 
to the Opinion of others." The founders, Stoddard told a Boston audience, 
"were a very holy People that came into this Land, whatever mistakes they 
were under, in any particulars, their hearts were engaged to do the Will 
of God"; nevertheless, he implacably insisted, "it lyes upon us to consider 
whether we have not corrupted ourselves." So at last a voice was raised, 
stronger than Colrnan's, against the first assumption of the jeremiads, 
against the thesis that Americans were inferior to their progenitors. "The 
mistakes of one Generation many times become the calamity of succeeding 
Generations." When Increase persisted in declaiming against him as 


apostate, Stoddard answered with words that deserve to be fully repeated, 
for they constitute a turning point in colonial, indeed in American, litera- 

As the Renown of those Reformers is a bulwark against those Errors that were 
Exploded by them, so we find our selves embarrassed by their mistakes from pro- 
ceeding in the work of Reformation: As if it were criminal not to mistake with 
them . . . 

Men are wont to make a great noise, that we are bringing in of Innovations, 
and depart from the Old Way But it is beyond me to find out wherein the 
iniquity does lye. We may see cause to alter some practices of our Fathers, with- 
out despising of them, without priding our selves in our own Wisdom, without 
Apostacy, without abusing the advantages that God has given us, without a spirit 
of compliance with corrupt men, without inclinations to Superstition, without 
making disturbances in the Church of God: And there is no reason that it should 
be turned as a reproach upon us. 

Surely it is commendable for us to Examine the practises of our Fathers, we 
have no sufficient reason to take practises upon trust from them: let them have as 
high a character as belongs to them, yet we may not look upon their principles 
as Oracles ... It would be no humility, but baseness of spirit, for us to judge 
our selves uncapable, to Examine the principles that have been handed down to us. 
If we be any ways fit to open the Mysteries of the Gospel, we are capable to judge 
of these matters: And it would ill become us so to indulge our selves in ease, as 
to neglect the Examination of received principles. If the practises of our Fathers 
in any particulars were mistakes, it is fit they should be rejected, if they be not, 
they will bear Examination j If we be forbidden to Examine their practises, that 
will cut off all hopes of Reformation. 

William Ellery Channing could not be more precise, Emerson more self- 
reliant, Theodore Parker more resolute! What Stoddard here proclaimed 
is that royal right of judgment which has come to be supposed (nobody 
quite knows how) the essential meaning of Protestantism; however, there 
is nothing quite like it to be found among the great Reformers, certainly 
not in Calvin, nor among the Protestant founders of New England, not 
even in Roger Williams. Possibly there is inherent in Protestantism a 
mentality bound, sooner or kter, to turn the technique of protestation 
against its own origins, but in this case the spirit of self-criticism was evoked 
out of dogmatism not only by the failure of jeremiads to produce the needed 
results, but by the Mathers' doctrinaire demand that no methods except 
those which could claim ancestral sanction ought to be applied to American 
conditions. Hence, when Increase indulged in eloquent hymns to the 
founders, proclaiming that never did a generation attain to such perfection, 
Stoddard sourly observed that he, magnified the fathers into the Apostles, 
and that this sort of hyperbole "especially is his proper Element. 3 ' When 
Increase moaned, "Would he bring the Churches in New-England back 
to the Imperfect Reformation in other Lands, and so deprive us of our 
Glory for ever?" Stoddard remarked, "Mr, Mather all along intermingles 


Passionate Lamentations with his Arguments," which "serve to swell the 
Book and make it more in bulk, but not in weight." 

Stoddard's irony did not prevent Increase Mather from continuing to 
call, in his peculiarly sepulchral tones, upon the perfect and flawless 
founders, from whom his audiences were supposed always to have degener- 
ated. This, as Stoddard had said, was his element. But Stoddard lent heart 
to other spokesmen, and helped Colman assert that if some of the first 
customs too much restricted Communion or infringed "the Natural Rights 
of Men and the Legal Rights of English Men," then we had "done well 
long since to Abolish any such corrupt and persecuting Maxims." We may 
revere our forefathers without repeating their errors, and above all we 
should not be inhibited by their notions from doing something about the 
altogether too many unbaptized and unconverted persons we have among 
us. Thanks mainly to Stoddard, an occasional election preacher could rebel 
against a reckless denunciation of every difference of opinion as con- 
stituting apostasy and subversion. Thanks more to Stoddard than to the royal 
government, John Leverett at Harvard College could let students examine 
even the founders of Harvard College in a critical spirit, and could impart 
to them the excitement of a liberalized education. "There is," said Solomon 
Stoddard, "a necessity of vindicating the Truth, yet we cannot do it with- 
out making some disturbance." 





Proposals, as sent to the churches, bore the date of 
November 5; scorning fixed holidays, the orthodox signers may not have 
noticed that this was Guy Fawkes Day, but among the people profane 
memories persisted, and a man of the people would remember the anni- 
versary of Gunpowder Treason. We have beheld John Wise at Ipswich 
and at Quebec: if any cleric was of the people, or spoke their language, 
assuredly it was he. We can recover nothing of how he lived or what he 
preached after returning in disgust from Phips's mismanaged invasion of 
1690; he appeared as a character witness in defense of at least one of the 
accused in Salem, and signed a petition for restitution to heirs of the 
slaughtered. Worth noting is the fact that, although the hysteria spread 
from Salem Village to Andover, it did not infect Ipswich. In 1697 he 
drafted instructions for a company intending emigration from Essex County 
to Souch Carolina, which are notable for their concern with such practical 
considerations as the nature of the sod and the manners of the population. 

Undoubtedly a copy of the Proposals went to Chebacco Parish, as to all 
established churches. Cotton Mather preserved his own manuscript, which 
was printed in 1814, but all other copies of the text ultimately disappeared. 
The movement was dead; why keep the thing around, or why give it 
further thought ? 

Wise dates the preface of his answer May 31, 1710: we suspect that if 
he sought a Boston publisher, he faced what Calef and Colman had con- 
fronted, but perhaps he was canny enough not even to try. For whatever 
reason, The Churches Quarrel Espoused: or, A Re^ly in Sctiyre y to certain 
Proposals, was published in 1713 at New York; this issue is today exceed- 
ingly rare, and there is no evidence that it had much circulation in New 
England. But in 1715 a "second edition" did appear in Boston, prefaced 
by a letter to Wise from Samuel Moody, stationed since 1698 in York, and 
John White, minister since 1702 in Gloucester, husband since 1703 to 
Wise's daughter Lucy. They begged him to reprint, professing that their 
eyes had been opened by his transcendent logic, grammar, and rhetoric, 
to see the value and glory of New England's privileges, and that therefore 
his book might be of wonderful service to the churches; or at least, they 
said, "it will be a Testimony that all our Watchmen were not asleep, nor 
the Camp of Christ surprized and taken, before they had warning." They 


seem to imply that the New York printing was not getting through to the 

This edition could hardly be ignored. Evidently the Cambridge Associa- 
tion rebuked Moody and White for endorsing it, and on August 2, at a 
fast in Brattle Street, Colman in the morning "Censur'd him that had 
Reproach'd the Ministers as they were Gog and Magog," while in the 
afternoon Cotton Mather (this collaboration in 1715 of the opponents of 
1700 is the true measure of Wise's significance) further censured him 
"that had reproached the Ministry, calling the Proposals Modalities of 
little consequence, and made in the Keys; calTd it a Satanick insult, twice," 
and lamented (according to Se wall's elliptical account) that the insult had 
"found a kind Reception." Sewall thought the whole proceeding excellent, 
although he himself "could wish the extremity of the censure had been 
forborn." On September 17, Cotton Mather wrote to Woodrow of Glas- 
gow that there were no disturbances in the colonial churches except that 
"a furious Man" had published a foolish libel "against some of us, for 
presbytenanizmg too much in our Care to repair some Deficiencies in our 
Churches." Then he who against Stoddard had delivered the resounding 
oration of July 4, 1700, dryly observed. "Some of our People, who are not 
only tenacious of their Liberties, but also more suspicious than they have 
cause to be of a Design in their pastors to make abridgments of them; are 
too much led into Temptation, by such Invectives." However, he thought 
Wise had not had, nor would have, much effect. 

That he should affect to speak ot Wise as some rank outsider was absurd: 
he had several times celebrated the Ipswich protest as a stroke for English 
liberties, and he knew Wise's part in it. The sentiments of Chebacco were 
familiar to Sewall, who in 1714 took part in the gathering of a church at 
Ipswich Farms, there to hear Wise give the right hand of fellowship, "much 
applauding the N. English venerable Constitution." 

In 1717 John Wise, following this tram of thought, boldly issued his 
second book, Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches. 
Cotton Mather felt the shock, and took thought with himself what he might 
do throughout the land "that the Poison of Wise's cursed Libel may have 
an antidote?" But he lifted not a hand; in the Ratio Disctpllnae, published 
in 1726 but undoubtedly written in 1719, he recounted the history of the 
Proposals, explaining that they had been shelved out of deference to several 
"Good Men," although there was, he added, "a Satyr, Printed against 
these written Proposals, and against the Servants of God that made them," 
but these followers of the Lamb, remembering the maxim of "Not Answer- 
ing" (a new weapon in the Matherian arsenal) and profiting by the ex- 
ample of the University of Helmstadt (which Cotton had already cited in 
his letter to Woodrow of 1715), retired into generous silence and pious 

There the story seems to end, which is a puzzle. Ir relatively modern 
times, Wise's works have come into their own, first rediscovered by politi- 


cal scientists and then celebrated by historians of literature; if any writing 
of the period has an assured place in the canon of American expression, it is 
they. For a while, students assumed that such powerful attacks must have 
demolished the Proposals, but later investigation demonstrated that long 
before Wise published, the project was moribund. Aside from the few 
evidences of contemporaneous perturbation already noted, the books were 
swallowed up in Cotton Mather's generous silence. Samuel Moody, even 
then becoming the legendary eccentric "Father Moody/' was a strict con- 
servative in theology, later a resolute advocate of the Awakening; John 
White pronounced in 1734 a jeremiad, New England* Lamentations, 
which deplored the too great individualism of Congregational churches and 
made the first public accusation that some among the clergy were Arminian 
(that very year, Jonathan Edwards was to commence his fatal feud with 
his Williams cousins by denouncing the spread of "Armmianism"). The 
mystery might be resolved if we had a single scrap of a theological utterance 
from Wise, but the efforts of countless researches have turned up nothing. 
The unwary might assume that he who radically expounded the authority 
of reason in ecclesiastical realms would also preach reason in religion, but 
to jump to that conclusion is to miscomprehend the first decades of the 
century. That Moody and White were Calvinists and denouncers of 
Arminianism is significant: there is no cause for supposing that the author 
of the Vindication did not preach The Westminster Confession undefiled, as 
also did Stoddard and Colman. 

Hence the importance of Wise, great as it is, must be stated cautiously. 
The Churches Quarrel readily provides the due: Wise was inspired by a 
tremendous passion for the rights of Englishmen, wherefore he was more 
prepared than most of his contemporaries to call them simply the nghts of 
man. In his extravagant enthusiasm for the British constitution he hymns 
praises of the "Empire" that might have made Joseph Dudley blush, and 
cries up November 5 as "Blessed 1 Thrice Blessed Day!" trusting that if 
ever some monster shall threaten the nation's glory, on this day a hero will 
arise to confound him. So he overwhelms the absent-minded associations: 
"Why Gentlemen! have you forgot it? It is the day of the Gun-Powder- 
Treason, and a fatal day to Traytors." After all, he had been in 1687 the 
forerunner of that solemnization of the rights of Englishmen to which 
champions of the old charter learned to give voice in the 1690's. What 
could there be of revolution in his objecting, upon the analogy of the Eng- 
lish Parliament, to consociations or standing councils? He was saying only 
what Mathers themselves had said: "In Honour to the New-England 
Churches, and with veneration for the English Monarchy, I dare assert, 
that there is in the Constitution of our Church Government more of the 
English Civil Government in it, and it has a better Complexion to suit the 
true English Spirit, than is in the English Church." The New England 
mind had not yet dared take the positive step of defending Congregational 
polity on the grounds of its affinity with the civil order of "the most flourish- 


ing Common- wealths" in the world, or of equating its basic principles with 
those which gave preeminence to the House of Commons or with the idea 
of judgment by one's peers, but the way for such an assertion had long 
been prepared by precisely those against whom Wise now rose in his anger 
and his contempt. 

Cotton Mather therefore called him furious, but Mather would have 
a hard time, considering his own pronouncements, taking exception to 
such premises as that Englishmen live and die by laws of their own making, 
that their government is based upon a charter or a mutual compact, th<it 
"Englishmen hate an Arbitrary Power ... as they hate the devil." 
Hence Mather could not but feel the sting when Wise concluded, out of 
these premises, that the Proposals "Out-King 1 d," "Out-Bishop't," and 
"Out-Pop't" all existing kings, bishops, and popes. 

But the rights of Englishmen are more than sentences on parchment, 
more than devices by which a Puritan oligarchy might turn a royal charter 
to its notions of orthodoxy: they have a common-sense implication, they 
apply to real situations. Wise objected to consociations as invasions of Eng- 
lish liberty, and reinforced his opposition with such utilitarian arguments as 
that they would squander the time of ministers in the deadly atmosphere of 
the committee room. They would keep a man from getting on with his 
proper work, and like all trappings of tyranny, their very superfluousness 
proved them false. The Proposals said that councils should answer ques- 
tions of importance by due deliberation, Wise replied that there were no 
questions in New England so important as to require that much delibera- 
tion: "We must enquire, How many deep Questions can be found in our 
Country, grown mouldy with the Gibeonites Bread, for want of wise 
handling?" As for problems of moral regulation, every parson had on his 
shelves Ames's or Turretine's handbook of casuistry, which "for a few 
Shillings will do more in a month, for an Inquisitive Mind, than this 
Proposal can do in the tedious apprenticeship of many years." To a man 
who knew his rights and stood upon them, the Proposals were a confession 
of pusillanimity, of that shrinking from the rough facts of life which had 
aroused the contempt of Stoddard: the lily-livered were taking refuge in 
consociations, trying to support each other in actions likely to produce 
"Imbroylments." On this score Wise and Stoddard joined hands across 
the intellectual gulf: deeply immersed in their different communities, each 
of them knew that a minister worth his salt gets into "Imbroylments" and 
then gets himself out of them, not by crying for help but by being, like 
Wise, a man. 

The most that we can make of it, is a Covering of Figg-Leaves, and may serve 
for a Harbour to Cowards and Fools but not for men of Spirit and Conduct. The 
Dream of an Imbroylment, can never Counter-Poize Duty; If men are Trusted 
with Duty, they must consult that, and not Events. If Men are plac'd at Helm, 
to steer in all weather that Blows, they must not be afraid of the Waves, or a 
wet Coat. 


If, in their first conception, the works of Wise were defenses of the rights 
of Englishmen, they show how the exercise of those rights was being trans- 
lated into the terms of his society: for him, the rights were not bulwarks of 
security but the prerogatives of forceful personalities, of leaders capable of 
creating disturbances and resolving difficulties, who could maintain their 
privileges in the sort of speech where, to use Colman's phrase, the voice is 
kept natural. 

These works, as posterity has learned to appreciate, are important as 
much for how they speak as for what they say. They amount to a libera- 
tion of language, and their example, even if not noticeably felt by Wise's 
ministerial colleagues, could not be lost upon James Franklin or his little 
brother Benjamin, or upon men more concerned with the declining cur- 
rency than with the declension of the spirit. Wise's books are truly fore- 
runners of the literature of the American Revolution, first creating that 
symbol which then was to be so central of the square-toed, common-sense 
American who calls a spade a spade and does not manufacture pinheads. 

This I am sure must needs stand for a verity, that the Judgment of a real 
honest and skilful Artificer (keeping close to his Shop) concerning the Nature and 
Qualities of an Edge-Tool which he hath wrought, and hammered on his own 
Anvil, out of its first Rude Matter, must certainly Excel him that hath been long 
from the Trade, that only takes it, turns and tries the Edge slightly, or has but a 
transient view of it. 

We may rejoice that such prose now enters this narrative, but the real 
humor of the passage is even deeper: it is part of Wise's argument that the 
churches should depend, when selecting new ministers, upon the recom- 
mendation of "Harvards Commendamus" and not upon the opinion of an 
association; "the best and most Infallible Standard for the Philosophical 
Accomplishments of our Candidates, is the Judgment of the Honourable 
Praesident, and noble Fellows of oui Famous Colledge." Thus John 
Leverett (who indubitably was F. R. S.) was pictured as an honest artificer 
who keeps dose to his shop, while Cotton Mather was exhibited to the 
country as one long from the trade! What good sense Mather showed 
by deciding to remain silent now becomes apparent. 

Wise's vocabulary is the man himself: "Where men are without the Law, 
and all hail fellows, not well, but badly met"; we shall only lose "by 
swapping Governments upon these Terms"; the Proposals are a "crude 
Dose." The councils were supposed to contain ky delegates; Wise the 
minister saw that this was a sacerdotal deception to fool the people into 
thinking the decisions were not merely clerical; but once the clergy have 
soared "above their proper Sphere," they will push the laity out by a 
"Back-door very Artificially finished and left upon Latch, for their ex- 
ecution." To illustrate the fate of these dupes, he used a metaphor which, 
in its outspoken sexuality, would be at once comprehended by every 
Yankee farmer: 


It is an observation, on the Monarchy of Bees, that the Drones formerly sup- 
posed to be not only a lumpish, but a useless Bee, yet it is of that nature, and so 
Essential a Member of that Commonwealth, that it is Really the Male-Bee, and 
does Impregnate the Females, who are the Sole Labourers in that Kingdom, but 
when that Crisis is over, the poor Drones are by common Consent Banished, as a 
great Incumberment. 

No American writer had yet managed so felicitous a handling of a single 
word as Wise bestowed upon his "crisis." 

^With the proposal that councils take upon themselves the selection of 
ministers for particular churches Wise made such sport as altogether to sur- 
pass the limits set by Colman to sober mirth: 

It seems to me very Adviseable (if this Proposal may stand for a sound Precept) 
that forthwith another Office be erected, and put into the hands and under the 
Government of a few men, exactly skilled in Physiognomy, and deeply Studied 
in the Sympathies and Antipathies of Human Nature, with an absolute super- 
intending Power to Controul, and direct all Wooers m ther Choice for the Mar- 
riage Bed; for that there is many a fond Lover who has betrayed the glorv of 
Wedlock, by making an unwise and unfortunate Choice, And why may not par- 
ticular Beds be overruled, as well as particular Churches? 

There are evidences (which we inordinately treasure) showing that the 
Puritans knew how to laugh. Cotton Mather is often funny, though seldom 
by deliberation (when he tries, he is generally labored) ; however, Samuel 
Sewall told of his courtship of Madame Winthrop with at least some aware- 
ness that he cut a ridiculous figure. But when Wise's lines were read around 
country hearths, we may be sure that a guffaw arose, after which New 
England would never quite be the same again. His son-in-law, John 
White, hardly impresses us, from his own publications, as a genial character, 
and we may even suspect that in the funeral sermon he pronounced upon 
Wise in 1725, which he entitled The Gospel Treasure in Earthen Vessels, 
he encountered a certain difficulty in getting the image of a Gospel message 
into the large and loose-limbed figure of the wrestling parson. (We should 
indeed note how eulogists of both Wise and Stoddard make much of their 
great height and their physical stamina.) It was a fact, said White, that no 
man ever went out of Wise's presence sorrowful. Words had to be chosen 
carefully in 1725, but White picked those which, in the context of the time, 
were revealing, at least to readers who had received the benefit of Colman's 

And some who had viewed him at a distance thro' a Glass, when they have 
Visited him, and familiarly Conversed with him, have been Charmed, and even 
Ravished. They have beheld Majesty mixt with Affability, Gravity with Facetious- 
ness, Charity and Severity; Charity to the Persons, and Severity to the Opinions 
of his Antagonists. 

Gravity and facetiousness struck an alliance although in contemporaneous 
eyes the charity was not so visible when Wise informed signers that 


rather than try to subvert by despotic measures "an Empire and Province 
so Charmed with such Inchanting Liberties as ours are," they had better 
write words on the ground, "or with the famous Domitian, spend the 
time in Catching Flies." The student of American speech will find him- 
self obliged to pause in the midst of the argument to note the prominence, 
both in Wise's statement and that of his son-in-law, of the words 
"charmed," "inchantmg," and "ravished" linked with "facetiousness." 
What sources in Puntan Essex County fed these springs of humor? 

Wit had more scope m the "satyr" than in the Vindication; Moody and 
White asked for its republication out of admiration for its grammar and 
rhetoric as well as for its logic, since it chose to answer the Proposal? by a 
device without precedent (unless Nathaniel Ward's might be so accounted, 
who, we should remember, found two comforts in Calvinism, the perfec- 
tions of Christ and the manifold imperfections of Christians) in colonial 
literature. Like Ward, Wise assumed a masquerade (a more sustained jape 
than that of the simple cobbler, hence one that might give ideas to younger 
writers seeking a pseudonym for scoring unpopular points) : he pretended to 
be a prosecuting attorney, "under Commission from Authority, to appear 
in Defence of my Countries Sacred Liberties"; hence he drew up an 
indictment, using as his model the speech of Sir Edward Coke "in the 
Arraignment of Sir Walter Rawleigh." This gave him a chance to depart, 
whenever he chose, from logic into rhetoric, to point out that only by an 
act of the government could consociations ever come into compulsive 
power, but that meanwhile ministers might freely gather in mere associa- 
tions as often as they wanted, "for they are Masters of themselves, and 
no more accountable how they spend their time, than other men are." The 
masquerade also enabled him to give an historical analysis of how associa- 
tions, formed under the necessities of 1690, had gradually come to think 
of themselves as possessing a power they had no right to, until at last "out 
come these Proposals, like Aarons Golden Calf, the fifth day of Novem- 
ber, 1705," and then to tell the reader that here was the whole history, 
"like Homers Uliads in a Nut Shell.** The pose further permitted him to 
stud his discourse with appeals to the jury, such as that they protect their 
"sacred liberties" and fight bravely "in withstanding vassalage or a ser- 
vile State," in the name of those "liberties wherewith Christ has made 
us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." The 
peroration asserted that The Cambridge Platform contained everything 
necessary for the prosperity of the churches, that it required no addi- 
tions, and that stirring up the hearts of church members to live accord- 
ing to their professions was the only thing necessary. 

This, amusingly enough, was the sustained message of the jeremiads, 
although in Wise's statement it sounded nothing like so ominous or stren- 
uous. Obviously, it was not his real conclusion; irony and satire were 
all very well, but in the course of making fun of the Profotals, he called 
them unreasonable. This led him into a digression, wherein he defined 


reason as "that great oracle in human affairs," that soul of man, some- 
times sharpened by constitution, by grace or by study, "whereby man's 
Intellect is inabled to take up (po Medulo, or in a degree) the true Idea 
or Perception of things agreeable with, and according to their Natures." 
This sounds like orthodox Ramist doctrine, which Wise would have 
learned at Harvard. Still is there not a difference m the conception 
of agreement between idea and thing when the idea is called upon to 
correspond with the "crisis" of copulation among bees or with the marriage 
bed among men, from what it had signified when the idea was a con- 
struct of artificial and inartificial arguments extracting a church covenant 
out of the New Testament? If, as a common-sense man, basing yourself 
upon the rights of an Englishman, you know what is true, might not 
"Recta Ratio" signify even more than an ability to read the Bible? The 
inner logic of the positions to which Wise's passion drove him then fur- 
ther obliged him to proceed from the satire of The Churches Quarrel to 
the demonstration of the Vindication; the Proposals were quickly forgot- 
ten, nor did the censures of Colman and Mather much bother anybody m 
Chebacco. The great fact was that rhetoric dictated to logic: a man could 
not let himself playfully describe the Proposals as embryos "born out of 
due times," nor could he draw upon his knowledge of bastardy among the 
people in order to say, "there is no Statute to be found that will justify 
the first Coitus of the Parents" and so slyly invoke the rule of Deuteron- 
omy, "A bastard shall not enter into the Congregation," without having 
to ask himself, in all seriousness, what after all is natural? An emanci- 
pation of language meant, irresistibly, that the intellect must also liber- 
ate itself, that resistance to the Proposals be vindicated not merely out of 
the Bible or out of English constitutional tradition, but out of pure nat- 
ural reason. 

This is the achievement of the Vindication, to which it addressed itself 
in the second and most copious of its five proofs by daring to defend the 
order of the New England churches "fairly" out of the law of nature 
alone, without any reference to revelation. Wise wryly protests that in 
making this experiment he is merely gratifying his own curiosity, although 
possibly diverting the reader, he acknowledges, "I shall go out of the Com- 
mon Road, and take into an unusual and unbeaten Path," but hopes he 
may thus open a road to knowledge and wisdom. Actually the direction 
of the road to be explored had, as we have watched the signs emerging, 
been prefigured; Wise was the first to realize its destination: the reason 
for these churches' being what they are "is really and truly owing to the 
Original State and Liberty of Mankind, and founded peculiarly in the 
Light of Nature." 

In the opinion of some scholars, Wise is not so great a figure as was 
once supposed because whole paragraphs of this second demonstration 
turn out to be paraphrases of Samuel Pufendorf's De Jure 'Naturae et 
Gentium. The accusation is generally accompanied with a further deni- 


gration, that he was ignorant of Locke; the curious supposition, peculiar 
to Anglo-Saxon scholarship, is that he would have been more original 
had he drawn upon the English Locke rather than upon the German 
Pufendorf. Basil Kennett's translation of Pufendorf had appeared in Lon- 
don in 1703 (the first printing in England of the Latin text was 1672) ; 
Wise may have used either it or the original, but he does acknowledge, 
"I shall Principally take Baron PufFendorfT for my Chief Guide and 
Spokes-man/ 5 and so plunges ahead. Kennett's text has Pufendorf say 
that the law of nature consists of "the accurate Contemplation of our 
Natural Condition and Propensions" ; Wise puts it, "The way to discover 
the Law of Nature in our own state, is by a narrow Watch, and accu- 
rate Contemplation of our Natural Condition, and propensions." This 
insertion of "narrow Watch" is typical of the redaction Wise gave to his 
source, even when following it most literally. In this fashion he presented 
a body of thought with which the colonies were not quite familiar, modu- 
lating it into a key they would comprehend. There are, as we know, dif- 
ferences between Pufendorf and Locke's Treatises on Government, but 
both arise out of the same background, out of the secularization of the 
Protestant conception of the state. Perhaps it is all the more to the credit 
of the rural intellectual in Chebacco that he did not yet know of the Eng- 
lish theorist, and that somehow encountering the German philosopher, he 
seized as decisively as Locke himself upon the conceptions of social com- 
pact, natural rights, and right of revolution; just as Locke made these 
the rationale of the English constitution, Wise proposed that they rather 
than Scripture gave the ratson d'etre to Congregational societies. 

At any rate, whatever he took from Pufendorf, he contrived to set it 
in a context purely New England. His first demonstration appealed to the 
"Voice of Antiquity" and relied, so pointedly as to be downright insult- 
ing, upon the works of Increase Mather. (He knew, as did his readers, 
that the author of The Order of the Gospel, deeply committed against 
Stoddard, had refrained from signing the Proposals.*) Wise then made the 
transition to his rational demonstration easy by quoting "the London Min- 
isters," thus placating in advance all champions of the United Brethren. 
From that point, it was clear sailing, so that, after finishing the proof 
from nature, he could add, almost as an afterthought, those demonstra- 
tions which the founders took from the Bible, and then reinforce them 
with practical considerations, such as the inherent "ballance" of the sys- 
tem and its affinity with English parliamentarianism. So the crux of his 
thesis, the point where he dug in his heels, is the second section, the un- 
usual and unbeaten path; here, with or without the help of Baron Pufen- 
dorf, but with great help from his native wit, Wise commenced a new 
chapter in the history of the provincial mind even though many of his 
sentences were in fact variants of venerable propositions. 

The uniqueness of his treatment consists in his isolating the rational 
proof, of allowing it to stand entirely by itself; in daring to dispense, if 


only for the moment, with Biblical and historical evidences, he established 
the philosophy so firmly upon a secular basis of nature that all other testi- 
monies were reduced to subsidiary confirmations. His heart was really in 
this portion of the book, the Congregational polity is the "Royal assent of 
the supream Monarch" to previous decisions of reason. "It seems to me 
as though Wise and Provident Nature by the Dictates of Right Reason 
excited by the moving Suggestions of Humanity; and awed with the just 
demands of Natural Libertie, Equity, Equality, and Principles of Self- 
Preservation, Originally drew up the Scheme, and then obtained the Royal 
Approbation." It was of course from God "whether we receive it nextly 
from Reason or Revelation, for that each is equally an Emanation of his 
Wisdom" but if it could be received in its entirety from reason, what 
need of revelation? So then, after the fiasco of witchcraft, after the Mani- 
festo and Stoddard had cast grave doubts upon the Biblical source of the 
covenant, after Stoddard had concluded that a vigorous pastor would not 
let himself be hamstrung by the covenant when he addressed himself to 
the task of keeping his people in order, there arose a pastor who also was 
vigorous but not inhibited by the theory of the covenant, who in his heart 
was indifferent to the question of the Biblical warrant, but who was pas- 
sionately devoted to the polity in and for itself, and for whom it meant, 
not an autocratic city on a hill, not Stoddard's or even Wmthrop's con- 
tempt for the commonalty, but, by all the laws of reason and of nature, 

Wise is indeed a riddle. We can trace with perfect consistency the evo- 
lution of political ideas through a sequence of (on the whole) conven- 
tional election sermons, wherein the Puritan conception of the Bible com- 
monwealth was slowly, and never radically, transformed into the philos- 
ophy of a government limited by the law of the land and by the terms 
of its charter, until the ultimate deduction quietly emerged that a tyran- 
nical invasion of this law may legitimately be resisted. But no thinker be- 
fore the Revolution, not even Jonathan Mayhew, gave to this doctrine 
the democratic, egalitarian emphasis that Wise did. This element in his 
formulation he did not get from Pufendorf, but from (we must assume) 
his experience among a rural population, and that not on Stoddard's fron- 
tier, but in an older community where the way of life had subsided from 
the lofty vision of the founders into getting a living. His logic, which was 
not what the founders called logic but what was to have a wider vogue 
under the name of common sense, argued that men in a state of nature 
were in a condition of natural freedom and equality, that therefore they 
would preserve as much of nature as possible, and so in their first cove- 
nant would set up a popular government. By this insight, democracy is 
"most agreeable to the Just and Natural Prerogatives of Humane Be- 
ings," and that system is best which favors the natural equality of men; 
assuredly "Government was never Established by God or Nature, to give 
one Man a Prerogative to insult over another." All this, he said here 


parting company not only from the Mathers but from Stoddard "is as 
plain as day light." 

Possibly the really revolutionary maneuver in the Vindication is not so 
much the assertion of democracy (for the word had not yet become a 
slogan) as those definitions of reason and of the law of nature out of 
which he derived his democratic conclusions. Wise's books were so little 
discussed at the time (at least in anything that survives) that we are not 
exactly sure what Cotton Mather meant by their "poison" whether the 
democratic teaching or merely the derisive tone; but if he was (as seems 
most evident) deeply troubled and yet dared not attack Wise, knowing 
himself too vulnerable, then what most appalled him must have been the 
stark rationalism. During a later controversy, in 1772, one faction reis- 
sued Wise's volumes (curiously enough, there appears even then no con- 
nection between them and any theorists of the Revolution) ; Nathaniel 
Whitaker answered by reaching back into seventeenth-century technologia 
for liis definition of reason, saying it is no more than the faculty which 
"draws inferences" from Scripture, that it may reject what is contrary 
to revealed rules, "but it may make no new institutions." Hence Wise 
was simply arrogant because he gave "large scope for such towering and 
self-applauding fancies in the breasts" of ordinary and unregenerate men. 
However, those closer to the seventeenth-century teaching were uncom- 
fortably aware that technologia was not too consistent; there were many 
passages in Richardson and the Harvard theses which celebrated the in- 
tuitive rational truths which man, despite innate depravity, retains in his 
soul. By separating the self-evidently reasonable demonstration from the 
revealed, and allowing it to stand with no suggestion of outside support, 
Wise did not so much propound a novelty as extract out of the intellectual 
heritage a truism to which he could thus give a novel (and dangerous) 
implication: man "is the Favourite Animal on Earth; in that this Part 'of 
Gods Image, viz. Reason, is Congenate with his Nature." Then, because 
he was arguing (if only for the moment) in wholly secular terms, Wise 
went further than any colonial theologian had ventured, catching up with 
and even surpassing the most latitudinarian of English rationalists. He pos- 
itively presented reason not merely as an instrument for interpreting Scrip- 
ture, but as itself the giver of truth. "That which is to be drawn from 
Mans Reason, flowing from the true Current of that Faculty, when un- 
perverted, may be said to be the Law of Nature." Furthermore, this au- 
thority is inward and so available to all men not like the Quaker inner 
light a supernatural visitant, but universally "Congenate." By it "the Un- 
derstanding of Man is Endowed with such a power, as to be able, from 
the Contemplation of human Condition to discover a necessity of Living 
agreeably with this Law." The understanding is able, as Wise asserted by 
his subtle but staggering addition to Pufendorf, to evolve political prin- 
ciples out of itself "by a narrow Watch." 

To John Winthrop this would have been rank heresy. The human 


choice, as he described it in the famous speech of 1645, had not been 
between authority and reason, or between tyranny and liberty, but only 
between order and depravity. Hence he found it impossible to imagine 
natural liberty, outside the social condition, as anything but brutish, whereas 
there was nothing tyrannical in obliging the multitude within the cove- 
nant to submit to those set over them for their own good, compelling them 
by force to yield to what is, in itself, eternally good, just, and honest. The 
content of this goodness, justice, and honesty was not given by reason, but 
it was eminently rational. Wise drew out the revolution which had been 
implicit in Winthrop's federal authoritarianism to a conclusion that would 
have horrified every one of the founders, not only Wmthrop but Roger 
Williams as well. He took as first premise an identification of natural lib- 
erty with "the Tyes of Reason, and Laws of Nature," and then exclaimed, 
"all the rest is Brutal, if not worse." In his argument, brutality became 
any attempt of the authorities to impose upon the population, by irrational 
compulsion, something which only the authorities had defined as good, 
just, and honest. 

It seems significant that in the spring of 1719 Wise was at last invited 
to give the election sermon; the House of Representatives was possibly 
not so much interested in abstract theories of reason as in maintaining 
their privileges against the governor and Council, with whom the Mathers 
were once more in alliance. (In theology, the "Patriot" faction were arch- 
conservatives and regarded Cotton Mather as much too loose ! ) What- 
ever the motive, Wise was too judicious to engage in forensic combat and 
refused; whereupon William Williams, a devoted partisan of Stoddard 
(as well as a son-in-law), was summoned from Hatfield. Wise was not 
a man who went out of his way to make trouble. He approved heartily 
of Thomas Symmes's efforts to introduce a semblance of harmony into 
the communal singing, giving it "as His Judgment, That when there 
were a sufficient number in a Congregation, to carry away a Tune 
Roundly, it was then proper to introduce that Tune." Here again is the 
mark of the man: the good and just tune may be prescribed by the laws 
of music, but the propriety of introducing it depends upon the existence of 
a sufficient number in the democratic congregation. The fact that Symmes 
took such care to cite him shows that the yet unanswered Wise was a 
formidable figure and that his name carried weight; in 1721, when the 
ministers were at last united as one man in their advocacy of inoculation 
and Increase Mather needed to prove their solidarity, he deliberately as- 
sociated with himself the names of those whom the community knew had 
been his two great enemies: "We hear that the Reverend and Learned 
Mr. Solomon Stoddard of Northampton concurs with us; so doth the Rev- 
erend Mr. Wise of Ipswich, and many other younger Divines." By indi- 
rectly confessing that Stoddard and Wise were separate powers, Increase 
was admitting that the effort to maintain a single ecclesiastical system had 
failed; he was conceding that both opponents had stood their ground, that 


the era of the founders, in which polity and the Biblical covenant had been 
the dominant ideas, was at an end, and that in the new epoch points of 
view which Stoddard and Wise had developed out of their ecclesiastical 
deviations had to be reckoned with. 

One must guard against claiming too much for Wise, but it is impos- 
sible not to behold in him the first clear-cut spokesman for the farmer, the 
agrarian, the "native" American. In his sentences first clearly appears that 
contrast between the natural felicity of America and the miseries of artifi- 
cial Europe which Crevecoeur, Tom Paine, and Thomas Jefferson were 
to make the main theme of American literature. Churches in Europe are 
corrupt, and there ecclesiastics get kings by the throat, wring vast treasures 
from the public coffers which should go to the public good, "and the Peo- 
ple have no more wit but to Justifie and defend them in their Claims and 
Oppressions, and that till they themselves (in great Numbers) are as thin 
and ragged as Penury it self." But in New England the constitution "is 
very fair-mannered," and the clerical interest, "when it sits down to the 
stalled Ox," carries itself temperately, leaving the people's prosperity "to 
the Empire to make its Armies and Navies." 

A careful reader of Wise who will take the pains to consider him not 
in the light of subsequent "democratic" theory or even in that of the Revo- 
lution, but in terms of his situation, in those that had developed out of 
New England's apprehension of the real meaning of the Massachusetts 
charter, out of Dudley's efforts to extend the tutoring must be struck 
by the cunning with which he contrives to argue for the limitation of 
ecclesiastical power in this community and at the same time shoves upon 
"the Empire" responsibility for the army and navy. I strongly suspect 
that political scientists who have written learnedly upon his debt to Pufen- 
dorf or debated the question of his knowledge of Locke have missed the 
point: he would use what he had found, but his tongue was in his cheek. 
What gives not only charm but vitality to his "poison" is just the passion 
at the heart of him, the same fanaticism which inspires Sewall's dithyramb 
on Plum Island: a love for the knd and its people. His wits were sharp- 
ened by decades of dealing with country men, not with theories; he had 
learned tricks to catch the unwary, and had come to understand the church 
system in a frame of reference made up of such local considerations, to 
which the scholastic theses taught at Harvard College had, at best, a dis- 
tant relation. When at last he laid his large frame upon his deathbed, he 
told his son-in-law (who probably modulates the speech) "that he had 
been a Man of Contention, but the State of the Churches making it neces- 
sary 5 upon the most serious Review, he could say he had Fought a good 
Fight: and had comfort in reflecting upon the same: He was conscious to 
himself of his acting therein sincerely." We do not need to detract from 
his peculiar genius by insisting that his special mixture of sincerity and 
facetiousness is a cultural as well as a personal triumph, and so to demand 
that any historical conception of the New England mind take stock of 


both him and his younger contemporary, Benjamin Franklin. The twin- 
kle in his eye is visible even from this distance as he concludes the Vindi- 
cation by reprinting that testimony to the order of the Gospel which Cot- 
ton Mather had extracted m 1701 from the venerable Higginson and 
Hubbard. Those saints were now departed, but the cream of the jest was 
that Wise should cite, in his defense, what they had painfully written in 
behalf of Increase Mather against Solomon Stoddard. By aligning him- 
self with them, Wise had everybody at a disadvantage, and played upon 
this ludicrous situation (indeed, reducing Cotton Mather to silence) by 
printing these great names at the back of his book and then permitting 
himself a mock apology: 

For you must note; I am now Retreating out of the field of Battle, and I 
hope upon Honourable terms too, and then the Reer is the highest place in dig- 
nity; so that though they are brmgers-up, its no diminution to them. And not only 
so, but out of Prudent Conduct, for though I presume the Enemy is fairly Van- 
quished, yet some forlorn party may rally, and to gratify their desperate fortune 
may disturb us, but I hope these valiant and wise Commanders thus posted, will 
secure our Reer, beat back the Enemy, and bring all off with Triumph. 

Stoddard won his case by forthright scorn; Wise stood off Cotton Mather 
by employing the one weapon against which Matherian Puritanism had 
no defense: he laughed it out of court. 

Increase had mobilized the holy and mighty weight of ancestral prece- 
dent, thus forcing Stoddard explicitly to reject that authority when he 
turned his church into a Presbyterianized autocracy. John Wise was no 
less emancipated from ancestor worship, but he saw in the polity of the 
founders aspirations which they perhaps had not recognized but for which 
they could even so be honored. Without overworking the appeal, and 
certainly not in the Mathers' hysterical fashion, he reminded the people 
what shiploads of blood and treasure had been expended to win for them 
"those Civil Things" which their fathers had bequeathed: 

And many of you being immediate Successors, cannot but be very sensible what 
these New-England Liberties have Cost your Progenitors, some of them having 
buried their Estates, and all of them their bones in these Foundations, and left 
you now in Possession, that if you should put Contempt upon their Adventures, 
their Courage, Wisdom, Zeal, and Self-denial, by Under-prizing these In- 
estimable Infranchizements, and slight them . . . God may then put you to 
learn the Worth of them at that School where they Learnt itj and I am sure 
you will pay dear for your Tutoring if it comes to that. 

Thus Wise, like Increase Mather, fought to save the church covenant, 
but not on Mather's grounds; for him it was New England's way of life, 
it meant rationality and freedom, it was democracy. 

Wise and Stoddard may be pictured as confronting each other across 
the grave of John Winthrop, neither of them (so far as I know) ever 


mentioning the other, but each of them, m a manner of speaking, strik- 
ing at the other through the hapless Increase Mather. Neither could be 
disciplined or silenced, which was to say that thenceforward the task of 
keeping the New England mind unified and coherent could no longer be 
accomplished in the field of church polity. If the region was to maintain 
its personality, it would have to find symbols of unity in other spheres, in 
social or ethical theory, in politics, in literature. This would be a problem, 
for by the first definition, so strongly imprinted upon the mind, New Eng- 
land was dedicated to a due form of government both civil and ecclesi- 
astical. Out of its very success in establishing that form had arisen confu- 
sion; out of the original premises had come, by equally legitimate lines of 
descent, the irrevocable contradictions of Stoddard and Wise, foreshad- 
owing a division that would deepen rather than close throughout Ameri- 
can history. Had these controversies been, as on the surface they appear, 
only parochial squabbles, they would today be of only antiquarian interest; 
but New England during the century following 1630 was part and par- 
cel of Western Christendom, or at least of Protestantism. The lines of 
cleavage have larger analogies in Europe, and are prophetic. By the first 
decades of the new century, with the symbolic antagonism of Northamp- 
ton and Ipswich marking the extreme right and left, with the North 
Church and Brattle Street variously placed in the center, with Leverett 
at Harvard and with Yale becoming a counterweight, with its original 
bases thus sundered, the New England mind set itself to search for new 
formulae of accommodation in the realms of a simplified piety, in a moral 
code and a scientific outlook, in a defense of political privileges, and in an 
assiduous pursuit of profits. 


Splintering of Society 

"Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men. 

That I might leave my people, and go from them 1 

For they be all adulterers, 

An assembly of treacherous men, 

And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: 

But they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; 

For they proceed from evil to evil, 

And they know not me," 

Saith the Lord. 

"Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, 

And trust ye not in any brother: 

For every brother will utterly supplant, 

And every neighbour will walk with slanders." 





moment Andros was overthrown, Cotton Mather 
resumed, as we have seen, the litany of sins composed by the Synod of 
1679. He commenced the applications of his sermons with, "Let us take 
a Catalogue of the Iniquities, and the Transgressions wherewith our Con- 
gregation hath sinned." In 1729, Jeremiah Wise came down from Ber- 
wick to deliver the election sermon his father had declined to give ten 
years before, and announced that the very abuses enumerated in 1679 
were still the procuring cause of God's continuing judgments except 
that to the original catalogue had been made innumerable additions* 

Preachers felt most safe when reciting the familiar array. They were 
on solid ground when lamenting infringements of the Seventh Command- 
ment, "exceeding frequent, in the Land, notwithstanding the Care is taken 
to prevent them." But the tabulation, which in 1679 had covered an en- 
tire civilization, was no longer adequate: not only had the proliferation 
of standardized sins become luxuriant, but a host of new iniquities cried 
aloud for classification let alone for reformation. A whole realm of 
abuses, some of which had once been subsections, now grew into major 
topics: for instance, fragmentary recognitions of the effect of life on the 
frontier needed to be recast into a more coherent picture. Upon these 
"Pagan Skirts of New-England" people "Indianize" themselves, thus 
developing depravities unknown to 1679: they become impudent liars 
who "invent Reports and Stories at a strange and monstrous rate." They 
dispense with ministers, neglect schools and family government, and fill 
idle hours gaming, so that "If our Youth be permitted to run wild in 
our Woods, we shall soon be Forsaken." By 1702 such ungospelized plan- 
tations had become, in the opinion of Cotton Mather, "The very Brothel 
houses of Satan." 

Although the frontier had not, as such, figured as a category in 1679, 
still it was a conception within which manifold observations could be log- 
ically grouped. In the more cultivated areas, complexity augmented, and 
the problem merely of organizing denunciations into a logical pattern re- 
quired a gallant effort of mind to keep up with the march of society. What 
had been deemed luxury in 1679 paled into sobriety as compared with 
what was to be reported in 1710 or 1720. To the ever expanding cata- 
logue were added such diverse items as wigs and then bigger wigs, "the 


Rudeness and Lewdness of our Husking Times," "Christmas Revels/' 
such pagan customs as Shrove Tuesday, and that "most horrid and Shock- 
ing Profanity" at launching of new vessels, "breaking a Bottle upon her." 
In the churches themselves, evenings after an ordination produced "pre- 
posterously" unseemly actions; weddings grew boisterous, court days, like 
Commencements, were turned into fairs. Jests and songs increased, as did 
the reading of romances which tainted the mind with "very false No- 
tions of Love Honour and Vertue," and prevented people, especially house- 
maids, from studying the Bible or polemical divinity. Jeremiahs had to 
find a place in their scheme for even fortunetellers, astrologers, and palm- 
ists, to bewail a spreading indisposition to await events "in a willing and 
wholesome Ignorance." In 1728 the nadir seemed reached when a duel 
was actually fought on Boston Common, in which one participant was 
killed. Eleven ministers, Colman and Chauncy along with Foxcroft, were 
in despair over this ktest addition to the mounting chronicle: 

That any of the sons of New-England, who have been born and educated in 
this land of light, should be so forsaken of God, and given up to their lusts and 
passions, as to> engage in a bloody and fatal Duel, deserves to be bewailed with 
tears of blood. 

The Synod, in its innocence, had supposed the land in 1679 to be at the 
bottom of the abyss, but it had been unable even to conceive anything so 
abysmal as this. 

Furthermore, even the most conventional themes made constantly more 
exhausting demands upon descriptive powers. Drunkenness, for instance: 
not only was there more of it, there was less shame ; numbers were to be 
"seen in the open Street, staggering and reeling," and by 1713 it had to 
be admitted that women were no strangers to the vice, "The Town has 
had cause to know the Truth of this." The vice itself became a more com- 
plex thing; in 1673 Increase Mather had addressed Wo to Drunkards 
to imbibers of wine, but in the preface to a revised edition of 1712 had 
to lament that so little wine was drunk. Instead there was "Cyder, and a 
Spirit Extracted out of it," and then that even more pernicious concoc- 
tion "imported from the Sugar Islands" which both people and minis- 
ters, although in different moods, called "Kill-Devil." Rum, said Cotton 
Mather, was a greater disaster than a French invasion; in 1726 he and 
other ministers in the vicinity (ecclesiastical factions could present a united 
front while speaking through the jeremiad) issued a manifesto against it; 
yet even here, certain cautions had to be observed if that front were to be 
kept united: instead of unmitigated condemnation, the document had to 
concede that innocent diversions might enliven and fortify nature, that a 
bit of rum, "invigorating the Animal Spirits, and brightning the Mind, 
when tired with a close Application to Business," might be allowed to 
pious businessmen. The associated pastors had to adapt their tone to an 
objection offered by certain frequenters of taverns who now had the brash- 


ness to plead in their own behalf that this was "the Custom of the Place, 
and they wou'd not affect Singularity." The previous year in Connecti- 
cut an election preacher had confessed that many excuse themselves for 
sitting in the tap-room because "Ministers and Magistrates do now and 
then make an innocent Visit to the Tavern." 

If so simple a rubric of depravity as intoxication thus raised internal 
difficulties, requiring more sophisticated or at least less dogmatic analyses, 
how much more complex was the task of dealing with that jungle which 
the Synod, in the naive days of 1679, had lumped under its tenth heading 
as inordinate affection to the world. In pursuing this investigation, the 
clergy found themselves wading deeper and deeper into a morass of eco- 
nomics, until Cotton Mather had to exclaim, "This Variety, begins to grow 
into too much Acrimony." In despair of mastering it, he counseled his fel- 
lows to account themselves too ignorant "to pronounce any Judgment upon 
that Spirit of Over-trading and Over-doing that some suppose very much 
threatens us." When the businessmen themselves, including many pro- 
fessing Christians, divided into hostile armies, the clergy, who had once 
whipped a Robert Keayne into line, whose advice men like John Hull 
had sought and followed, had to stand helplessly by, begging both fac- 
tions to remember charity. As times grew hard and prices rose, Increase 
wistfully wondered whether the government ought not revive the old law 
"That no Merchant should ask above Four Pence, or Six in the Shilling 
for what he sells" 5 when that code had prevailed, the clergy had been the 
economic arbiters, but in 1719 Mather merely sighed that he could no 
longer "meddle" in these affairs, and advised sufferers to seek consolation 
in prayer. 

Yet neither he nor his colleagues could abdicate outright; they were still 
official spokesmen for the social consciousness, and through the jeremiad 
alone could that consciousness be expressed, although with increasing im- 
perfection. They might be bewildered, and realize that they were un- 
qualified to understand the world of business, but they could not escape 
the duty of denouncing, and so of tabulating, the outward and visible signs 
of prosperity and its abuses. In the 1690's, for instance, they commenced 
a rising lament over the conduct of women of wealth: "The Cards at which 
many Gentlewomen Play wickedly with their Hands" are infinitely more 
debasing than those "cards which fit the Wooll for the Wheel" ; a painted 
face, Cotton Mather was declaring as early as 1692, is a sign "hung out 
for Advice to Strangers that they shall find Entertainment there." In 1695 
Increase spoke of women in Boston who sported tinkling ornaments, chains, 
bracelets, and "changeable suits of Apparel"; by 1718, commenting on 
the complaint of New England's poverty, Colman must declare, "Look 
on our Cloathing, our Furniture; our Tables, our Children; and if it were 
not for shame I had said our Balls, and say if we be Poor." It had gone so 
far that Cotton Mather was reduced to pleading with "the richer sort" to 
set an example to the poor in order to "make all Goodness a Fashionable 


Thing." We look back to the Boston of 1720 as to a charmingly provin- 
cial simplicity, but to measure it by the scale of the mid-seventeenth century 
is to behold an emerging Babylon. There is historical evidence that by this 
time culture, amenities, fine furnishings, and even handsome women were 
to be found in Boston houses, and funeral orations began spontaneously to 
include the adjective "affable" among the virtues of the pious; but the 
time had not come when these privileges of opulence could be relished 
without qualm of conscience. 

This did not prevent men from struggling hard to acquire them. Here 
the conscientious analyst found himself indeed bogged down in an ethical 
quagmire to which ancient rules seemed every year less and less applicable. 
It had become, said Joshua Moodey, a lying and deceiving age, "Over- 
reaching one another in Dealing, the weakest (though the honestest) goes 
to the wall." Not, it must be said, for a lack of realistic appreciation of the 
facts were the clergy nonplused, Cotton Mather could give this minutely 
objective description of commercial practices: 

The fish is naught; the Tar has undue mixtures; there is Dirt & Stone instead 
of Turpentine; there are thick Layes of Salt instead of other things that should 
be there; the Cheese is not made as tis affirm d to be; the Liquor is not for Quan- 
tity or Quality such as was agreed for; the Wood is not of the Dimensions that 
are promised unto the Purchaser; or perhaps, there was a Trespass in the place 
of Cutting it; the Hay does not hold out Weight by abundance; the Lumber has 
a false Number upon it; or, the Bundles are not as Good Within as they are 

What made such a report depressing was not so much the extent of the 
corruption as the tendency from which it flowed: men used these tricks 
and cheats to rise in the world; they refused to abide patiently in the sta- 
tions to which providence had called them. They could no longer bear the 
humiliations of a mean rank, and so ran into debt: "Those Flags of Pride, if 
I may be so bold," asked Mather, "are they paid for?" When finally pressed 
by their creditors, people "Church-Members for ought I know" es- 
caped by "breaking." In all consultations for the general good, each thought 
only of himself, and "he who would make a Speech to the Men of Publick 
Spirit, must go into the Burying-Places, and Speak among the Sepulchres." 
Likewise in Connecticut: overreaching, defrauding, endless strife about "the 
property of Lands, which has brought such Confusion, Contention and 
Division among our selves." With all his great prestige, Stoddard could 
not check the ravages of ruthless competition among the settlements in his 
empire: "In Country-Towns, Men sometimes give a shilling for that, which 
at Market Town, might be had for six pence"; when a man goes to seek 
what is plentiful elsewhere, "the Seller takes that advantage to oppress 
him." The year before his death, Cotton Mather, always seeking for con- 
ceits on which to construct ingenious sermons, took the familiar list of 
shady devices in trade by now commonplace to his audience and "im- 


proved" each of them into analogous deceptions in the realm of the spirit. 
To this resort the New England mind was driven! 

The last vestige of the scholastic objection to usury was gone; in 1699, 
considering the problem as one of Thirty Important Cases, the Cambridge 
Association calmly declared that "Humane Society, as now circumstanced, 
would sink, if all Usury were Impractable." While wringing their hands 
over declensions which seemed to them utterly destructive, the clergy took 
this shattering revolution in stride, and justified usury (within modera- 
tion) on three accounts, each of which had for centimes been employed 
to condemn it: by the law of equity, for a man should partake in that bene- 
fit which his estate procures another; by the law of parity, for "Money is 
really as Improvable a thing as any other," and there can be "no reason- 
able pretence that should bind me to lend my Money for nothing"; and, 
most wonderfully yet most rationally, by the law of charity, for a man 
may legitimately reap a benefit for his family from those things of which 
he is proprietor. Of course, the rate of interest should not become extor- 
tionate and he is to be reprehended who lives upon usury alone; but still, 
settling the procedure may be left to the consciences of good men. For the 
next thirty years, having thus opened the gates, the clergy had no resort 
except to berate (without affecting) those who, lending money, took the 
first year's interest at once, leaving the borrower insufficiently supplied; 
thisj they would cry, "is a Biting Usury which cannot be Justified." But 
they quickly learned how irresistible was the increase of usury; by 1730 
their constant complaint was that New England had become a region of 
"Men ready to take one another by the Throat, saying, Pay me what thou 

Such men could, of course, still be threatened as they were with di- 
vine judgments; otherwise, they could be discouraged only by a pious ex- 
hortation to rest content with what they had and not to learn cheating 
and oppression in order to get what was beyond their station. After all, 
Cotton Mather tried to reason with them, great estates are not yet to be 
expected in this country; maybe in the future since we do have harbors 
but not now. As a method of dissuading men from the accumulation 
of estates, this argument was a characteristic boomerang: if wealth were 
eventually to be had, the time to commence was now. In the face of so 
empirical a logic, the dialectic of the covenant became constantly more 

The jeremiad might preach moderation and resignation, but it could no 
longer pretend to control a process it did not understand. Its technique, 
its very vocabulary, was limited to itemizing the surface manifestations 
of a reality which was not a matter of morals but of finance. In all inno- 
cence. Cotton Mather in 1691 had abetted the first motion when he de- 
fended the bills of credit. Every year the paper increased in volume, as it 
decreased in purchasing power while gold and silver were drained off to 
England. Laws inspired by the philosophy of the founders demanding 


that bills be accepted at face value or prohibiting the export of bullion 
were dead letters the moment they were voted. By 1714, silver having dis- 
appeared and the cost of living doubled, the New England mind entered 
upon a new phase in its history when a group of citizenSj all of Ehsha 
Cooke's connection, issued A Projection for Erecting a Bank of Credit . . . 
Founded on Land Security. 

It is, of course, an imperfect story of the New England mind wjhich 
pays so little attention as I have paid to Elisha Cooke, to his son Elisha, 
and to their cohorts; however, this analysis is obliged to concentrate upon 
what the mind made out of events rather than upon the events themselves, 
and the Cooke faction wrote their opinions not in books but in votes. So 
far, since their opposition to Increase Mather, they had contributed no 
"ideas" to the community; their stock in trade was the rights of English- 
men. Under that banner they pressed nominations to the Council upon 
governors to whom they refused a decent salary. Yet, though they may 
have had no original thoughts, by their unending campaign they did prove 
that provincial politics were steadily becoming secularized. In 1714, when 
they had achieved the intellectual and literary power sufficient for formu- 
lating the scheme of a bank, they became the first authors in New Eng- 
land to argue a case with hardly so much as a genuflection in the direction 
of religion. 

Paul Dudley, son of Joseph inheriting from his father both a philosophy 
and a temper replied with Objections to the Bank of Credit; one of the 
promoters answered in A Letter From One m Boston to his Friend in the 
Country y and at the end of the year nine of them headed by the younger 
Elisha, John Colman, Dr. Oliver Noyes, William Payne published A 
Vindication of the Bank of Credit. 

These four pamphlets nothing like so long or so ponderous as items 
in the Stoddard-Mather dispute mark the beginning of an epoch, not 
only for their subject matter but even more for their language; they 
show how, behind the fagade of the jeremiad, certain segments of the so- 
ciety, long excoriated but now grown strong, had become capable of think- 
ing and talking about social measures without having to borrow premises 
from the covenant. Instead, the projectors commence from this proposition: 
'Without a Medium, the Trade must necessarily decay, to the unspeak- 
able detriment of the Landed Interest as well as the Trading Party." See- 
ing no other way to produce a medium and not being content to sit help- 
lessly down and bewail affliction, these gentlemen proposed to incorporate 
a bank on the security of land, which would then issue money; they ex- 
pected to benefit the country but also to make a profit, and to show that 
their hearts were in the right place they offered to turn some of it over to 
charity and to Harvard College. On these grounds the debate was staged: 
Paul Dudley attacked the economic heresies, but no more than they did 
he bother with any theological aspects of this "Pandora's Box"; he de- 
nounced it chiefly because we are "a Dependent Government" and should 


remember that the Privy Council will disallow any such scheme. The pro- 
jectors intend, if they can set up so independent an institution, to get the 
entire country mortgaged to them, and "so at length beard down the Gov- 
ernment it self, and nothing be restrained from them." "Like a Fire in 
the Bowels," their bank "will Burn up and Consume the whole Body"; 
it hopes to create "A Gulph of Misery by Stock-jobbing," it is "the Phi- 
losopher's Stone," and its clients will find themselves "Bubbled Borrowers." 

The advocates cried out upon Dudley as a tool of "the Court Interest," 
and joined battle in purely political terms. His proposals were "Golden 
Bait," intended to deprive the people of their liberties; the tone of the pro- 
jectors was always, "I assure you Sir, I am the plainer on these Heads, 
in that I value the Liberties of my Country so dearly, as never to esteem 
such its best Friends, that are willing to part with them." The faction 
did not conceal, they positively flaunted, their design: "An empty Treas- 
ury is very much our Security," because it "prevents many fine schemes 
of Arbitrary Power"; all arguments for a sound currency mean merely 
that the governor will have something to rely upon: "Will there be any 
room left for Contests about settling Salaries?" Or again, "I never knew 
that Governour and Government, were one and the same word." When 
Dudley did quote a verse from Scripture, his opponents accused him of 
abusing it; otherwise, that august authority was not invoked. 

There was a small but hard-headed group of men led by Thomas 
Hutchinson who thought the bills utterly bad and that the only salva- 
tion lay in returning to specie payment, let the people suffer as they might. 
Dudley had sympathies in that direction, but considered the position doc- 
trinaire; hence, if bank there must be, he proposed, as against Cooke's 
private bank, to erect a public bank, through which the government would 
continue to issue bills of credit under the supervision of solid citizens. By 
charging a five per cent interest for them, it could keep the issue from 
getting out of hand. This plan, supported by Hutchinson as the lesser evil, 
was pushed through the General Court, and on November 5, 1715, 
50,000 were released, to be followed every year by larger amounts. The 
Patriots still agitated for their notion; during the next generation, this 
struggle over the bank became the secret of political alignment, where- 
fore power resided less and less in righteousness as it progressively became 
identified with financial faction. Pure theorists of the covenant were left 
standing helplessly by, reduced to the role of grieving spectators. They 
might exhort the government "to find out a just Medium of Exchange," 
but the annual repetitions of their plea indicate how little effect they had. 
"What must be tie End of this at long run," asked Colman, "but great 
damage, not to say ruine, to the Publick?" "The Blood in the Body Pol- 
itick is depauperated, and has too Hectick a Circulation," exclaimed Cot- 
ton Mather as he begged "the Men of Thought" (to this dignity they 
had been promoted) to devise methods of stopping "that Hemmorrhage." 

In 1716 one nameless man of thought published Some Considerations 


Upon the several sorts of Banks, and therein argued, like a provincial 
Keynes, that the way out was a public works program "for building a 
Bridge over Charles River, cutting a Channel at Sandwich for safe and 
more speedy Passage of Vessels." He wanted government loans to encour- 
age infant industries, such as iron and glass works, and even dreamed of 
granaries in which the state should store up corn for lean years; he alone 
in this controversy denounced large landholders and condemned usury itself. 

These radical proposals went unnoticed, and in the year 1720 crisis 
came: trade was bad, the bills were depreciating fantastically, and the land- 
bank men renewed their campaign with one of the most skillful composi- 
tions of the age, John Colman's The Distressed State of the Town of Bos- 
ton- Considered. Almost every week thereafter a new pamphlet appeared, 
the tone and treatment purely secular; yet a cunous note which Dudley 
had first struck in 1714 is now sounded heavily, and offers, as it were, 
an economic parallel to the jeremiad: the root of our problem, Dudley 
said and all had to agree is that we import more from abroad than 
we can pay for out of our own produce; hence, whether or not we have 
sinned against the federal Jehovah, we have certainly sinned against the 
balance of trade: "the great Extravagance that People, and especially 
the Ordinary sort, are fallen into, far beyond their Circumstances, in 
their Purchases, Buildings, Families, Expences, Apparel, and generally 
in their whole way of Living." Were frugality and sober husbandry in 
fashion, there would be no lack of a medium; therefore, the aim of a 
good bank must be to keep the printing of paper to as little as possible. 

Although they hated each other, both the parties had one thing in com- 
mon, that they accepted as sufficient this diagnosis of New England's 
miseries and upon it constructed their opposing measures. The rich were 
told by either side to set an example to the poor; yet, as one writer put it, 
while luxury is indeed something for penitent reflection, "I'm now con- 
sidering the matter, as to the Cost of such Imported Liquors." In what 
terms the New England mind was learning to think and in which, more 
importantly, it was learning by leaps and bounds to express itself appears 
as one runs an eye over these writings: "Let no Wool, Hides, Leather, 
Grain nor Candles be Exported"; "Let us be diligent and laborious, to 
raise, produce, make as much as we can for our own support, as to Food, 
Raiment, Tools, Utensils", "We should raise more for Export than now 
we do . . Fish, Oyle, Whalebone, Horses, Lumber." With every pam- 
phlet, the litany becomes more explicit, until language itself proclaims the 
new century: cc We in the Country think, that Plotting heads, Proud 
hearts, and Idle hands, will never maintain a People; and that a close 
following the Wheel within doors, and the Plough without are much 
better and stronger Politicks." The New England mind had needed three 
generations of first-hand experience before it could achieve such a sen- 
tence as this: "If I'm a Labourer and can have Four Shillings for a Days 
Work, and a few Years ago I could buy Wheat for Five Shillings a 


Bushel, but now must give Ten; this shows that the Produce of my Labour 
is not above half the Benefit to me that it was." 

The shift of focus from the theological covenant to staples was not, in 
these impassioned writings, a conscious literary revolution; still, with each 
word, a new frame of reference was established, within which for the first 
time colonial thinking adopted and clearly expressed what were to be- 
come classic counters for the American mind: debtor against creditor, 
farmer against merchant, poor against nch. John Colman, although a Bos- 
tonian and a brother to the genteel Benjamin, in his effort to enlist rural 
debtors to the mercantile side, found himself using language with a specifi- 
cation which entitles his pamphlet to a place in the development of Ameri- 
can prose: 

If we consider the Poor, we are promised a Blessing, and as it is most cer- 
tainly the duty of every Man, according to his capacity to consider them, in such 
a distressing time as this, when good Honest, Industrious, Modest People, are 
driven to such streights, as to sell their Pewter and Brass out of their Houses, 
which is scarce worse for wearing, to Brassiers, at the price of Old Pewter and 
Brass to buy them food, as I have been Informed by the Brassiers, who spoke 
it with great concern to me. 

In this state of affairs, it behooves the people to improve their interest with 
the government; opposed to them are only "some Country Gentlemen, 
who Live on their Farms, and others, men of plentiful Fortunes, who do 
not feel the Straits of the Times, and therefore cannot sympathize so 
feelingly with their Neighbours." Those who oppose the printing of more 
paper, wherewith poor men might pay their debts, are the same who op- 
pose the land bank not so much reprobate as wealthy: "but the Richest 
Men are not always beneficial to the Commonwealth." In 1690 the lead- 
ership of New England had striven to rally the community around the 
conception of English liberties; at that time they hoped that under this 
slogan they might protect Congregational polity, but by 1720 the slogan 
showed dangerous tendencies, which John Colman and his friends delib- 
erately exploited, of becoming an instrument of the many against the few. 
Colman artfully represented himself as a gentleman in town writing to 
a friend in the country. His opponents replied by adopting the role of coun- 
trymen; whereupon Dr. Oliver Noyes improved still further upon Col- 
man's blunt speech. One of the answers he thought beneath notice, but he 
put it in his pocket, "thinking it might serve, (as dirty as it was,) for a 
necessary occasion." He deplored paper money, but clearly the society 
needed a medium and paper was better than nothing: 200,000 of it had 
been issued, yet "in this large Country," that "is but as a sprat in a Whales 
Belly." The hard-money men might temporarily put up with a public 
bank, but their real intention was to